During Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of conservative groups, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) honed in on a critical question with possible criminal implications.
In questioning Treasury Inspector General J. Russell George, Thune focused on the claims by progressive journalism group ProPublica that IRS agents gave them conservative organizations’ confidential tax documents.
“You mentioned earlier that disclosure of confidential information would be a violation of the law,” said Thune.
“Yes, it could be a violation of the law,” George said.
“The reporting about the giving of this information to ProPublica–release of confidential information–could very well be a violation of the law?” asked Thune.
“It could have been,” said George.
As Breitbart News reported, ProPublica claims IRS agents gave them “nine pending confidential applications of conservative groups” that “were not supposed to be made public.” The site also noted that “no unapproved applications from liberal groups were sent to ProPublica.”
According to the IRS’s own manual, anyone found to have engaged in the “unauthorized disclosure of a return or return information” may be subject to felony charges punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and five years in prison:
18.104.22.168.1 (03-07-2008) Criminal Penalties Under IRC § 7213
1.IRC § 7213 makes the willful unauthorized disclosure of a return or return information a felony punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, or imprisonment of not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution. Upon conviction, officers or employees of the United States will also be dismissed from office or discharged from employment.
Note: IRC § 7213 also covers willful disclosures of software source code data protected by IRC § 7612.
So far, no criminal charges have been filed. But that could change.
“My question is, who’s going to jail over this [IRS] scandal?” asked Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on May 15th.