Washington D.C. – The Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) has confirmed unlawful disclosure of taxpayer information by the IRS, while at the same time dismissing a request by Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) to investigate wrongdoing. The response from the IG concluded that CoA Institute was correct in its allegations that “protected taxpayer information was included” on CDs provided by the IRS, but also determined that the matter “does not warrant further investigation[.]”

Last June, CoA Institute called on the DOJ IG and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to examine potential legal violations arising from the October 2010 disclosure of more than one million pages of tax returns and return information to the FBI and DOJ Public Integrity Section by Lois Lerner and the IRS.  [For more information, see pages 11-15 of CoA Institute’s recent investigative report]

TIGTA has not yet provided its response to the request.  CoA Institute also requested that the DOJ IG examine whether FBI and DOJ employees violated taxpayer confidentiality laws by inspecting that data.

While the IG admitted that “protected taxpayer information was included” on the IRS CDs, it stated that as soon as DOJ “learned of this, it returned the CDs to the IRS and informed Congress[.]”  Therefore, “[g]iven the absence of available information suggesting that Department employees . . . violate[d] laws, regulations, or policy,” the IG concluded that “this matter does not warrant further investigation[.]”  CoA Institute has filed a FOIA request with the DOJ IG to determine the exact nature of its notification to Congress.

CoA Institute Vice President John J. Vecchione: “The DOJ IG’s response is concerning.  While admitting that the IRS did, in fact, disclose confidential taxpayer information, the IG failed to address the absence of any proper requests for disclosure from the DOJ.  Even more alarming, the IG refused to conduct an investigation into legal violations because of the ‘absence of available information.’  The whole point of an investigation here is to collect the information necessary to determine whether DOJ officials broke the law by inspecting taxpayer data.  Americans deserve to know how Washington handles their most private information.  This incident may be one of the largest and most significant breaches of taxpayer confidentiality laws by the federal government, yet the IG seems to be washing its hands of the matter.”

The DOJ Public Integrity Section and the FBI sought the tax information at issue in order to prosecute non-profit organizations allegedly engaged in prohibited political activity.  As part of its public oversight efforts, CoA Institute obtained records demonstrating that neither agency ever submitted the statutorily-required requests for disclosure of this information to the IRS between 2009 and 2012.

Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code provides a strict rule of confidentiality for tax returns and return information.  Unless a statutory exception applies, government agencies and their employees may not disclose such information.  Violations can include fines, termination from employment, and even imprisonment.

To access CoA Institute’s June 29, 2016 Letter to TIGTA and DOJ-OIG, click here.

To access the DOJ IG’s October 12, 2016 response, click here.

To access CoA Institute’s October 19, 2016 FOIA request to DOJ IG, click here.