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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Hunter Biden files lawsuit against IRS alleging privacy violations

Hunter Biden filed suit against the IRS on Monday, claiming the agency is behind “unlawful disclosure of Mr. Biden’s confidential tax return information” to the media.

The complaint, which cites IRS supervisor Gary Shapley’s interview on CBS News as well as subsequent interviews, alleges the lawsuit is about “the decision by IRS employees, their representatives, and others to disregard their obligations and repeatedly and intentionally publicly disclose and disseminate Mr. Biden’s protected tax return information outside the exceptions for making disclosures in the law.” The IRS has not commented on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit cites “more than 20 nationally televised interviews” by Shapley and another whistleblower, Joseph Ziegler, who was the tax agency’s lead case agent in the federal investigation into Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son.

There are strict laws governing the need for confidentiality in how IRS employees treat taxpayer information. At the time of his first CBS News interview in May, both Shapley and his attorneys told CBS News he was taking great care in how he navigated his decision to speak publicly.

Shapley told CBS News he made the decision to speak publicly because he was so concerned about prosecutors’ handling of “a high profile, controversial” investigation that he felt duty-bound to sound alarms.

Shapley said he “saw deviations from the normal process” while supervising the investigation, but declined to publicly “confirm or deny the subject of this investigation.”

In the lawsuit, Biden alleges he is “the victim” of an effort by Shapley, Ziegler, and their legal teams, who “sought to embarrass Mr. Biden via public statements to the media in which they…disclosed confidential information about a private citizen’s tax matters.”

The lawsuit cites specific statements Shapley and an attorney made during three CBS News interviews. It claims that during interviews on April 19 and May 24, Shapley and attorney Mark Lytle — who is not named in the lawsuit — publicly disclosed the existence of the investigation without Hunter Biden’s consent.

And the suit claims that during a June 28 CBS News interview, Shapley made comments that disclosed confidential information about Hunter Biden’s taxes and finances.

“If this was any other person, they likely would have already served their sentence,” Shapley said in the interview, in which he also referred to alleged Hunter Biden personal “expenses that were taken as business expenses— prostitutes, sex club memberships, hotel rooms for purported drug dealers.”

Some of the attorneys for the agents have past ties to GOP politics and have helped the whistleblowers navigate their efforts to raise objections. Shapley was asked during the interview about allegations made by Hunter Biden’s legal team that he had broken the law in disclosing information about the Biden case – even to his own lawyer.

“Yeah, I can’t speak to that,” Shapley replied. Shapley has repeatedly said, including in sworn testimony, that he was not the source of any improper disclosures of tax information.

Attorneys for Shapley called the lawsuit “frivolous” in a statement to CBS News.

“Neither IRS SSA Gary Shapley nor his attorneys have ever released any confidential taxpayer information except through whistleblower disclosures authorized by statute,” they said. “Once Congress released that testimony, like every American citizen, he has a right to discuss that public information.”

Shapley and Ziegler brought their concerns to the House Ways and Means Committee this spring. They testified about what they said was the slow pace of the yearslong investigation and claimed that Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, who leads the investigation, had said he would not be the one to decide on whether charges were brought.

The New York Times first reported on Sept. 15 that in three other closed door interviews this month, witnesses from the FBI and IRS raised doubts about those claims. They reportedly put forward a description of events in which they alleged the pace of investigation was slowed by bureaucratic processes, as opposed to politics. And they said they could not recall Weiss saying he lacked the authority to move the case forward on his own.

The back-and-forth allegations between Hunter Biden and the IRS agents have played out even after the investigation seemingly came to a head this summer, when Hunter Biden and Weiss’s office reached a plea agreement involving misdemeanor tax offenses and a felony firearm offense. But the deal fell apart during a July court hearing, when a federal judge questioned provisions that would have allowed Hunter Biden to avoid prison time and further charges related to the investigation. He pleaded not guilty to three charges.

On Sept. 14, a federal grand jury indicted Hunter Biden on charges related to his purchase of a firearm in October 2018, while he was a drug user, according to court filings.

Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Hunter Biden, said Weiss — who is now special counsel overseeing the probe — was “bending to political pressure.” Lowell said he believed the charges were barred by the terms of the original plea agreement.

Jason Foster, one of the attorneys with the whistleblower advocacy group Empower Oversight went on social media after the lawsuit was filed to deride the decision.

“Hunter Biden suing the IRS because its career law enforcement officers felt compelled to blow the whistle on the kid-glove treatment his very expensive lawyers managed to get for him is peak White House privilege in action,” Foster wrote.

Last week, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, claiming “credible” allegations that Mr. Biden profited off his son’s business dealings.

Investigations mounted by House Republicans have yet to uncover direct evidence of wrongdoing by the president. Mr. Biden has denied any involvement in his son’s foreign work.

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