Hunter Biden is suing the IRS over disclosures two agents there made to Congress and the media about his taxes.
The lawsuit says two longtime IRS criminal investigative agents, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, illegally revealed tax details when they publicly raised concerns about the handling of the criminal investigation into the first son. It also accuses the IRS of failing to keep the two men from sharing Biden’s financial information.
“[T]he harm he has suffered — reputationally and emotionally — from their wrongful conduct has been staggering,” says the suit, filed Monday in D.C. federal court.
The suit cites a laundry list of media interviews with the IRS whistleblowers and their lawyers, including a podcast interview with journalist John Solomon and TV interviews on CBS News, CNN, and Fox News. It alleges that Shapley, Ziegler and their lawyers revealed Biden’s private tax information in these interviews, violating his privacy rights.
“[T]he IRS did not even instruct Mr. Shapley or his representatives to refrain from publicly and unlawfully disclosing Mr. Biden’s confidential tax return information, much less take reasonable steps to prevent its personnel from unlawfully disclosing Mr. Biden’s tax return information,” the suit says.
Biden’s suit seeks $1,000 for “each act of unauthorized disclosure” as well as an unspecified amount of punitive damages. And the suit asks a federal judge to order the IRS to set up a data security plan that complies with the Privacy Act.
On Monday, Biden’s defense lawyer Abbe Lowell also sent a letter to the Republican chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means saying that in 2018 — one tax year which federal investigators have scrutinized — he overpaid his taxes. Before his plea deal fell apart this summer, the president’s son was prepared to concede that he was late in paying his taxes for that year. At the time, he was in the throes of drug addiction. The first son has said in court documents that he belatedly paid about $2 million in taxes he owed — along with penalties and interest — after getting sober. Lowell wrote Monday that the IRS appears to owe his client a refund for that year, as he inadvertently paid more than he owed.
Tristan Leavitt, the president of a watchdog group representing Shapley, said in a statement that the suit is a smear. The suit references Leavitt but does not name him. It also references Shapley and Ziegler by name, but they are not defendants in the suit.
“This suit against the IRS is just another frivolous smear by Biden family attorneys trying to turn people’s attention away from Hunter Biden’s own legal problems and intimidate any current and future whistleblowers,” said Leavitt, whose group, Empower Oversight, is led by former staffers to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
“Neither IRS SSA [Supervisory Special Agent] Gary Shapley nor his attorneys have ever released any confidential taxpayer information except through whistleblower disclosures authorized by statute. Once Congress released that testimony, like every American citizen, he has every right to discuss that public information,” the statement continued.
A lawyer for Ziegler said: “Mr. Ziegler will continue to speak out about the Department of Justice providing special treatment to Hunter Biden as well as the roadblocks that he faced in pursuing all the facts and interviewing witnesses related to the Hunter Biden case. The efforts by the Biden family lawyers to silence Mr. Ziegler and other IRS employees will not succeed.”
Kel McClanahan, a lawyer who has represented government whistleblowers for more than a decade, told POLITICO that the first son has a strong case, given that Shapley and Ziegler spoke to media outlets in detail about Biden’s taxes. But he said some people may use the case to “disempower” future would-be whistleblowers.
“Will this case be used to hurt whistleblowers down the road?” he said. “I’m sure it will. Should it? No. What it should do is allow the court to basically come down and say, ‘There’s responsible whistleblowing and there’s irresponsible whistleblowing, and these guys fell on the wrong side of that.’”
Biden’s lawsuit is part of a newly aggressive legal posture that coincides with his indictment on gun charges. Last week, he sued a former Trump White House official who helped distribute the purported contents of his laptop. His lawyers also sent Republican lawmakers communications between their team and Justice Department officials — while also accusing those lawmakers of bullying the feds into bringing gun charges against their client.
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