Hunter Biden filed a lawsuit Monday against the IRS in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleging that two of its agents have been unlawfully sharing his private tax information amid criminal probes that have led to charges against him.
In the suit, lawyers for President Joe Biden’s son allege that “IRS agents have targeted and sought to embarrass Mr. Biden via public statements to the media in which they and their representatives disclosed confidential information about a private citizen’s tax matters.”
The filing says “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 complaint alleges the IRS and two of its employees, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, broke federal law prohibiting the dissemination of personal tax information and violated the Privacy Act.
Ziegler, who works in the agency’s International Tax and Financial Crime section, and Shapley, an agent in the IRS’ Criminal Investigation division, have both testified as whistleblowers before the House Oversight Committee, which has been focused on Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
Ziegler, who was the originating case agent investigating Hunter Biden’s taxes, testified at a hearing in July that there had been “gross mismanagement” involving the probe, and he has suggested prosecutors turned a blind eye to some of the allegations against the president’s son.
Shapley, testifying at the same hearing, said the Justice Department had given Biden preferential treatment.
Biden alleges in his suit that both improperly disclosed information about the investigation, their charging recommendations and the conduct they uncovered during the investigation — not just to Congress, but to a number of news outlets as well, including NBC News.
The suit alleges the pair set out to “publicly smear” Biden in the media even after being instructed not to discuss the allegations during their closed-door testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee and being reminded it’s “unlawful to make any disclosure of returns or return information” that has not been authorized.
“Despite these straightforward directions and explicit reminders of the repercussions that would result from violations,” the suit says, both “proceeded in their public campaign to selectively disclose certain confidential tax return information to embarrass and inflict harm on Mr. Biden.”
In a statement, Shapley’s legal team said they neither they nor Shapley had “ever released any confidential taxpayer information except through whistleblower disclosures authorized by statute. Once Congress released that testimony, like every American citizen, he has a right to discuss that public information.”
Shapley’s lawyers — Mark D. Lytle, Jason Foster and Tristan Leavitt — called the suit “just another frivolous smear by Biden family attorneys trying to turn people’s attention away from Hunter Biden’s own legal problems and intimidate any current and future whistleblowers.”
The suit is seeking, in part, $1,000 in damages for each improper disclosure of the tax records and for the IRS to come up with a plan to enforce federal privacy laws tied to tax information.
A spokesperson for the IRS said the agency “does not comment on pending litigation.”
Also Monday, Hunter Biden attorney Abbe Lowell sent a letter to Ways and Means Chair Jason Smith, R-Mo., pushing back on allegations Smith had been touting based on Zeigler and Shapley’s testimony that Biden had underreported his taxes in 2018.
“I am writing to let you know that your agents and you are wrong,” Lowell wrote. “Pending final development of facts impacting Mr. Biden’s 2018 tax year, it appears Mr. Biden will be due a refund for that tax year.”
Smith’s office declined comment.
The tax investigation into Hunter Biden started in 2018 and appeared set to wrap up in July, when Biden was scheduled to pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay his taxes in return for prosecutors recommending a sentence of probation. A separate felony gun charge alleging he bought a firearm while under the influence of drugs would have been dropped in two years in a separate agreement with prosecutors if Biden stayed out of trouble.
The deals fell apart after a federal court judge in Delaware questioned some of the terms.
Prosecutors last week charged Biden with three felony counts involving the gun sale and are likely to press additional tax charges against him before the end of the month.