U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) asked IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig on Thursday about the status of the investigation into the stolen private taxpayer files of thousands of Americans published by the progressive group, ProPublica.
Even though 10 months have passed since the theft was revealed, and the IRS vowed that same day to get to the bottom of it, Rettig on Thursday said there is no indication the information was stolen from the IRS.
He then said cryptically, “You know, the timing isn’t helpful for maybe an agency to say what did or didn’t happen.“
Progressive group Pro Publica described the stolen cache as “a vast amount of information. It’s not just tax returns. It’s also things like records of stock trades, information that is sent to the IRS about financial activities.”
The video and text of the full exchange is below:
Thune: “Since last year’s IRS data breach or leak of private taxpayer information which the left-leaning Pro Publica went out on to publicize confidential taxpayer details.
There’s been no meaningful follow-up from the Administration.
In your March 8 response letter to Finance Republicans, you pointed to Secretary Yellen’s testimony that said the Department of Treasury, the Office of the Inspector General, the FBI and the Department of Justice are conducting independent investigations into this matter.
This apparent leak or hack of private taxpayer information is a serious breach of trust between taxpayers and their government. And it is simply inexcusable that the Administration hasn’t provided any accountability.
So my question is, Commissioner – because I think it is a fundamental one – when taxpayers’ private information is stolen from the IRS and then shared by a partisan media outlet, how do think that impacts trust in the agency?”
Rettig: “I don’t believe it’s been indicated that it was actually stolen from the IRS. I don’t think there’s been anything on that.
TIGTA – Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration – is the authority as to the IRS that has the jurisdiction. So the investigation – and they announced there is an investigation – so they would be the people to talk to.
Hypothetically, any data breach I think causes significant reputational risk at a minimum for the U.S. government and specifically the Internal Revenue Service on a go-forward basis.
We need to protect, we need to confirm to people that the information they give us is safe — and that they are required to give us is safe – and security of taxpayer information is among the highest priorities not only of myself, but I think any Commissioner who has been here and any Commissioner who will follow me.”
Thune: “I am glad to hear you say that. So as a follow-up, when do you expect – based on what you just said about the Administration – to provide accountability regarding the unauthorized disclosure of taxpayer information?”
Rettig: “I can speak generally that – as most people – I get frustrated when investigations go on without public acknowledgement of what is there.
You know, the timing isn’t helpful for maybe an agency to say what did or didn’t happen. And to rebuild the trust – we don’t control the timeline of the Treasury Inspector General.”
Thune: “I would sure hope that you would urge them to complete it in as quick a way as possible – in as thorough a way as possible – but obviously so there is some accountability.”