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House GOP wants answers on IRS leak

Disclosure of sensitive taxpayer information has been under investigation for more than a year

House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, on left, is shown with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, right, and  Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass.
House Ways and Means ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, on left, is shown with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, right, and Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Ways and Means Republicans are renewing pressure on the Biden administration over a leak of taxpayer information to ProPublica last year, urging the Treasury Department to provide more public information on an investigation into the unauthorized disclosure.

The taxpayer data was part of a June 2021 article by ProPublica showing some of the wealthiest Americans pay little or nothing in income taxes, along with subsequent reporting by the investigative reporting outlet. While lawmakers in both parties initially urged an investigation into the leak, Republicans have since pressed Treasury to provide updates on an inspector general’s probe.

“Despite repeated efforts by Ways and Means Committee Republicans, the American people remain in the dark about who was responsible and how the Treasury Department allowed this to happen,” Republicans wrote Thursday in their letter to Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen.

Signed on were Ways and Means’ top Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas and GOP members Texas Rep. Jodey C. Arrington and Tennessee Rep. David Kustoff.

If Republicans take control of the House in next month’s midterm elections, the taxpayer data leak could become a bigger focus next year. One of the Republicans running to take over from Brady, who is retiring, as the panel’s top GOP member — Missouri Rep. Jason Smith — pressed Yellen on the issue during a June hearing and named it as a matter he’d perform “aggressive oversight” on if he holds the committee gavel.

Republicans sent a series of letters to Treasury on the issue last year and this April. They’ve also tied their concerns about the leak to broader opposition to Democrats’ almost $80 billion boost to the IRS budget as part of their signature climate, tax and health care law passed this summer. Republicans have said they’ll make repealing the boosted tax enforcement funding a priority if they take the House majority.

In the latest letter, Brady, Arrington and Kustoff said that while the department can’t disclose details about the ongoing investigation, the law doesn’t stop Treasury from making commitments on how it will respond to the leak, shore up protection of taxpayer data, and commit to reporting to Congress and the public when possible. They also asked Treasury about the timeline for completing the probe.

While Democrats also urged an investigation just after the leak, they’ve pointed to ProPublica’s underlying findings. Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has tied it to his effort to levy a tax on billionaires’ wealth including by charging tax on investment gains annually.

A Treasury spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

At the June hearing, Yellen told lawmakers that she’d referred the issue to the appropriate independent agencies.

“A leak of this type of information is a crime and we take it very seriously, and I will not interfere with those investigations,” Yellen said.

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