Binyamin ApplebaumDonald TrumpFeaturedNY Timestax returns

Person Who Leaked Trump’s Tax Returns (and Hundreds of Others) Gets 5 Years – HotAir

I wonder what NY Times Editorial Board Member Binyamin Applebaum made last year? We don’t know of course because his tax records are private. But it turns out Applebaum played a role in the decision by one IRS employee named Charles Littlejohn to gather and leak President Trump’s tax records to the NY Times. Littlejohn then decided he would help solve income inequality nationwide by leaking the tax information of all of America’s top earners. This week, in recompense for his freelance social justice activities, Littlejohn was given a five year prison sentence, which was the maximum.

Charles Littlejohn, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized disclosure of tax returns and return information in October and faced a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. Investigators said he used his position as a contractor with the nation’s tax collector to illegally obtain and then disperse the financial records of the former president, which resulted in “numerous articles” based on the information.

Before sentencing Littlejohn on Monday to the maximum penalty, federal District Judge Ana Reyes called his conduct “an attack on our constitutional democracy.”

“He targeted the sitting president of the United States of America, and that is exceptional by any measure,” Judge Reyes said. “It cannot be open season on our elected officials.”…

“I made my decision with full knowledge that I would likely end up in a courtroom to answer for my serious crime,” he said. “I used my skills to systematically violate the privacy of thousands of people.”

This was not a spur of the moment bad decision. This was a carefully planned crime one which Littlejohn carried out only after carefully considering how he could get away with it.

The information contained in the data, according to prosecutors, went beyond tax returns and included sensitive information like stock trades, gambling winnings, and audit determinations. His goal, they wrote, was to “catch the attention of the public with more salacious details than mere tax returns might provide,” noting that the alleged harm he caused continues as press reports from the leaked data continue to emerge.

“He executed his disclosure scheme over the course of multiple years, plotting and calculating carefully at each step to minimize the risk of detection and maximize the impact of his disclosures,” the Justice Department wrote. “Indeed, he reorganized his entire life around this crime.”

And he arguably is getting away with it, at least to some extent. By pleading guilty as part of a plea agreement prosecutors agreed he would face only one single count of of unauthorized disclosure of tax returns. That’s true even though he stole and distributed the tax returns of thousands of top earners. The judge was apparently frustrated with this this and gave Littlejohn the maximum for the one count. But it sounds like he could have faced separate counts for each of the thousands of tax returns he stole if prosecutors had really been interested in making an example of him.

Littlejohn’s lawyers created a “memorandum in aid of sentencing” which was designed to argue for an even lighter sentence. That document goes into a bit more detail about his behavior and motivations.

Mr. Littlejohn attended college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Outside of his studies, Mr. Littlejohn devoted much of his time to volunteering on campus, including working to help found an organization that has evolved into a global non-profit for sustainable solutions to hunger. Of the letters from college friends, most met Mr. Littlejohn while volunteering for this organization or at the campus social justice hub…

By the time he resumed work as an IRS contractor in the Fall of 2017, Mr. Littlejohn was resolved that he would try to access the President’s tax returns if given the opportunity. When, by chance, in early 2018, his employer assigned him to a project that would allow such access, he began to figure out how to obtain the records through searches that would not raise any red flags. In the months leading up to Mr. Littlejohn actually obtaining the tax records, there were several events that made him feel that he did not have any other choice but to act.5 By the end of November 2018, Mr. Littlejohn had successfully obtained 15 years of tax records for the President…

On April 13, 2019, the New York Times ran an opinion piece, “Everyone’s Income Taxes Should Be Public,” which argued that “[d]isclosure of tax payments would make it easier to hold politicians accountable [and] also would help to reduce fraud and economic inequality.” Binyamin Appelbaum, N.Y. TIMES, (Apr. 13, 2019),

So he met with reporters from the NY Times a few times, prompted by this NY Times opinion piece arguing that all tax records should be public, and then handed over all of the documents. But that was just the start. His private reading about income inequality convinced him to do more.

After repeatedly observing tax records of ultra-high net worth taxpayers with relatively small tax payments, Mr. Littlejohn became increasingly focused on the systemic inequality. At the same time, he was reading a book about income inequality, The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman (2019). The 2019 book set forth a systematic analysis of the U.S. tax system, concluding that for the first time in a century, billionaires almost universally paid lower effective tax rates than the average American taxpayer. It had a profound impact on Mr. Littlejohn’s worldview. While the book suggested solutions to this inequality, Mr. Littlejohn feared that none would be achieved without robust public engagement with the topic. He began to think about how an in-depth investigative report of the tax histories of ultra-wealthy taxpayers might be the one way to cause meaningful change to reform the tax system.

In June of 2020, Mr. Littlejohn began conducting searches to pull historic tax data on the wealthiest taxpayers. Basing his methodology on the tax analysis used in The Triumph of Injustice, Mr. Littlejohn constructed a query designed to pull the top 500 taxpayers by income by year for the past 15 years. After running the query, he stole the data set in the same manner as the President’s returns, uploading the data to his personal private website but not publicly posting any of the files. Mr. Littlejohn wrote at the time that disclosing the data to the media “would almost certainly mean signing my life away to misery.” And as before, he did not immediately share the records.

In Sep. 2020 he sent the tax records of thousands of wealthy Americans to ProPublica on an encrypted thumb drive. That site has since published dozens of articles based on the information. And again, thanks to a plea deal he was only charged with one count covering the Trump theft plus all of the hundreds of others. One of the people whose information he stole was Sen. Rick Scott of Florida. Sen. Scott sent AG Garland a letter expressing his displeasure.

Dear Attorney General Garland:

Your Department has agreed to an extremely lenient plea agreement with Mr. Charles E. Littlejohn over his willful violation of the law and partisan abuse of thousands of American taxpayers.

As a victim of Mr. Littlejohn’s crimes, I will present a victim impact statement during his upcoming sentencing hearing. By this letter, I formally request that you attend this hearing.

By harassing prominent Republicans and embarrassing Americans, Mr. Littlejohn’s crimes were entirely aligned with the agenda of the Biden Administration. And now the Biden Justice Department will allow him to plead to just a single criminal count.

This deal is so sweet I wonder if Hunter Biden was involved.

In any case, today Binyamin Applebaum has written a follow-up taking credit for the impact he had in this case and once again arguing all tax records should be public.

Charles Littlejohn broke the law by leaking the tax returns of Donald Trump and other wealthy Americans, and on Monday he was sentenced to five years in prison for his crime.

But that shouldn’t be a crime…

Littlejohn’s lawyers said in a court filing that he decided to leak Trump’s tax returns after reading my 2019 essay; he grasped the problem, but not the prescription.

Seeing as he was personally part of the reason all of this happened, Applebaum could show us a better future by making his own tax returns public. But so far as I know he hasn’t done that. He’s happy to keep his information private even as he pleads for a system where there is no privacy.

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