- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The top Republican on the House Oversight Committee is pressing for answers in the leak of private tax information of some of America’s wealthiest individuals, which ProPublica published this year.

Rep. James Comer, of Kentucky, reiterated his effort to root out the “IRS Snowden” he says is behind the leak in separate letters to House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig.

The Washington Times has obtained copies of the letters.

“This breach of privacy should be alarming to the hundreds of millions of Americans who pay federal taxes,” Mr. Comer wrote in his letter to Mrs. Maloney, New York Democrat.

“I, therefore, call on you to hold hearings with IRS officials, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and others, to gather information on this massive data leak and to ensure such failures at the IRS do not occur again,” Mr. Comer wrote. “Americans expect and deserve better from the Internal Revenue Service, and it should not allow itself to be used by criminal elements or partisan publications.”

Mr. Comer said House Oversight Committee Republicans determined through an investigation that someone within the IRS was likely the source of the leak, which he said was a criminal act.

The IRS has denied it was the source of the leak. Under federal law, it is a crime to release private tax information without authorization by the individuals or entities to whom they belong.

In a separate letter, Mr. Comer implored Mr. Rettig, the IRS commissioner, to cooperate with the committee Republicans in their probe.

“The IRS‘s failure to prioritize this lapse in security is unacceptable; your agency must commit to cooperating with Congress in this investigation of its compromised security,” Mr. Comer wrote. “ProPublica has explained it will continue to illegally publish taxpayer information — likely without consequence. The IRS, therefore, must take every measure to avoid participating in such campaigns and should attempt to put an immediate end to the unlawful leaks and publications.”

Mr. Comer requested the IRS provide audit trails for specific individuals whose tax information was leaked and and “a loser of all employees and contractors with access to any applications with tax return information” for the individuals whose tax information.

In his letter on Tuesday, Mr. Comer pressed for a response by Sept. 8.

ProPublica began releasing the tax information for the ultra-wealthy in June in a series called “The Secret IRS Files: Inside the Tax Records of the .001%,” which they said will continue “over the coming months.”

“We are disclosing the tax details of the richest Americans because we believe the public interest in an informed debate outweighs privacy considerations,” ProPublica said.

The IRS has entered the spotlight as Congress debates how to pay for the $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending package. Democrats have proposed a massive expansion of the tax agency to shore up tax enforcement to help pay for the spending package. Some lawmakers have proposed giving the IRS access to private information on how Americans spend their money.

Republicans, however, argue such regulations are too ambitious and risk harassing taxpayers for little proven benefit. Many point to the extensive loopholes within the federal tax codes and delay times filers receive in paying taxes as the reason for the gap.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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