Trump wins, tax information leaker sentenced to 5 years in prison

The Times, which received Trump’s returns, called the judge’s decision “harsh” and “deeply troubling.”

Trump wins, tax information leaker, sentenced to 5 years in prison
Donald Trump
Trump wins, tax information leaker, sentenced to 5 years in prison
Donald trump

A former IRS consultant was sentenced to five years in prison for leaking former President Donald Trump’s tax returns as well as the filings of thousands of other wealthy people to the news media.

A district court judge on Monday agreed with the Justice Department that Charles Littlejohn, 38, deserved the maximum statutory sentence for what she called “egregious” crimes.

Judge Ana Reyes, a Biden nominee to the bench, focused on Littlejohn’s decision to release Trump’s filings, which Reyes called “an attack on our constitutional democracy.”

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“When you target the sitting president of the United States, you’re targeting the office and when you’re targeting the office of the president of the United States, you’re targeting democracy — you’re targeting our constitutional system of government.”

Noting that Trump was under no legal obligation to release his filings and likening the case to the Jan. 6 attacks on the Capitol, Reyes said: “It cannot be open season on our elected officials — it just can’t.”

Littlejohn’s lawyers had asked for leniency in the form of a sentence of between 12 and 18 months, saying that, at the time, he believed the public had the right to know how much Trump and the others paid in taxes.

He has since come to regret leaking the information, his representatives told the court.

The Justice Department praised the judge’s decision.

“Today’s sentence sends a strong message that those who violate laws intended to protect sensitive tax information will face significant punishment,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri.

Littlejohn leaked the information to The New York Times and ProPublica, both of which protested the sentence.

The Times, which received Trump’s returns, called the judge’s decision “harsh” and “deeply troubling.”

“The Times’s reporting on this topic played an important role in helping the public understand the financial ties and tax strategies of a sitting president —information that has long been seen as central to the knowledge that voters should have about the leader of our government,” said spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha.

Relying on the documents, the newspaper published a blockbuster tax information story in September 2020, shortly before the presidential election, showing that Trump had paid little or nothing in taxes.

Littlejohn also separately gave tax data on thousands of wealthy people to ProPublica, which published a string of stories showing the strategies some use to reduce or erase their tax bills, including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and George Soros.

ProPublica spokeswoman Alexis Stephens said: “Whistleblowers are often the lifeblood of investigative journalism” and “they deserve protection not prosecution.”

Altogether, at least 152 people had their private information published in the media.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), one of Congress’s wealthiest members, who also saw his filings leaked, attended the two-hour sentencing hearing and asked the judge for the maximum sentence. Afterward, he said he was satisfied with her verdict.

In a statement, House Ways and Means Chair Jason Smith said Reyes sent a “strong message that the U.S. judicial system takes these crimes seriously.”

In court filings, Littlejohn’s lawyers said he was incensed by Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, despite a decades-old tradition of presidents volunteering their filings.

At the same time, he became increasingly concerned with income inequality, his interest fanned by a critique of the tax system written by liberal economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. After repeatedly discovering wealthy people paying little in taxes, he leaked the filings in hopes of prompting policymakers to act.

But Reyes said Trump and the others have a right to privacy. “We’re told by the press that democracy dies in darkness — it also dies in lawlessness.”

She said the democratic system won’t work unless “every individual elected to office is able to exercise the duties of that office without concern of exposing herself or her family to unlawful conduct or personal harm.”

Reyes also questioned what the leaks accomplished, noting that House Democrats separately released Trump’s returns in 2022 after a long legal fight. And, the judge said, there are already statistics and other publicly available information showing how much wealthy people pay.

“There was nothing noble or moral about the nature of his offense,” said Reyes. “It did not produce a single social good that could not have been — has not been produced in some way by lawful means.”

Credit: Susan Walsh/AP