Washington, D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) today released a comprehensive investigative report, Presidential Access to Taxpayer Information. The report covers in detail recent IRS misuse and unauthorized release of confidential taxpayer information and the possible role of a detailee program in the Office of the White House Counsel that may have provided access to the protected information.
The report states:
Following the misuse and unauthorized release of confidential taxpayer information during President Obama’s first term, including the largest breach of taxpayer confidentiality laws by the federal government in United States history, Cause of Action Institute investigated the legal and institutional checks designed to protect against such improper disclosure and the means by which the Obama administration may have evaded those checks.
That investigation revealed that President Obama has circumvented the congressionally created and authorized procedures for accessing confidential taxpayer information—procedures that were designed to be exclusive—by relying on individual consent forms that were never intended for use by the president. The practice has allowed the president to avoid the reporting requirements and limitations placed on presidential access to taxpayer information by the Tax Reform Act of 1976. In particular, the use of individual consents enables the administration to skirt statutory recordkeeping and reporting requirements to Congress, the limitations on the kind of information available for disclosure, and the extent to which such information can be shared within government agencies and offices.
The report reveals that throughout the Obama administration the Office of the White House Counsel employed at least one attorney detailed from the Department of Justice (DOJ) Tax Division. At least two of those attorney-detailees had intimate knowledge of confidential taxpayer information gained while serving as counsel to the IRS in litigation with nonprofit groups opposed to President Obama’s policies. This information is otherwise restricted from disclosure to the President and other White House officials.
The report shows that neither the DOJ Tax Division nor the Office of the White House Counsel has implemented context-specific training, guidelines, or ethical screens to prevent the inadvertent or deliberate disclosure of confidential taxpayer information by attorney-detailees.
Inherent conflicts of interest in the detailing program make it imperative that Tax Division attorneys who work on detail to the Office of the White House Counsel, especially those who have served as counsel to the IRS in matters involving the political opponents of the president, receive enhanced training and supervision to ensure the safeguarding of confidential taxpayer information. There does not appear to be any such program, specialized training, or targeted guidelines in place.
The report makes several recommendations, including that Congress should amend the Internal Revenue Code to ensure that the exclusive mechanisms created by the Tax Reform Act of 1976 for presidential access to confidential taxpayer information are enforced.
The full report and executive summary can be found here.