Hunter Biden’s lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) looks like an effort to intimidate whistleblowers by turning protected disclosures to Congress into the basis for a legal challenge, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Biden filed a lawsuit Monday alleging that two former officials, the whistleblowers Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, who are not named as defendants, violated his right to keep tax information confidential by testifying before Congress and making public statements that the investigation had been mishandled. Shapley told CBS News in May that the Department Of Justice (DOJ) “slow-walked” the investigation, and Ziegler asserted in a July Wall Street Journal op-ed that Hunter Biden “received preferential treatment.”
Tax code prevents IRS employees from disclosing confidential tax information, unless requested to do so by the chairman of a congressional tax committee. Legal experts argue the disclosures identified in the lawsuit were permitted.
“The lawsuit has all the appearances of an attempt to intimidate whistleblowers,” Cornell Law School Professor William A. Jacobson told the DCNF. “It appears Hunter has decided that the best defense is a good offense, and he is going on offense.”
Earlier in the year, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to make transcripts from interviews with IRS agents public.
“The baseless lawsuit against the IRS from Hunter Biden is clearly intended to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblowers who did their duty and testified before Congress as the law allows,” Mike Davis, founder of the Article III Project, told the DCNF. “It’s also a shot across the bow to other potential whistleblowers who could call out unfairly generous treatment that Hunter received in his tax cases.”
“The House must respond to this unnecessary and outrageous lawsuit by subpoenaing Hunter Biden immediately,” Davis continued.
The lawsuit alleges the agents “have targeted and sought to embarrass Mr. Biden,” who has “no fewer or lesser rights than any other American citizen.”
“While Mr. Biden has been the victim of various leaks regarding the IRS investigation previously, most recently, two IRS agents—Mr. Gary Shapley and Mr. Joseph Ziegler—and their attorneys raised the stakes to unprecedented levels with their numerous public appearances and statements that blatantly violated Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code by engaging in a campaign to publicly smear Mr. Biden,” the lawsuit alleges.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley wrote on Twitter that the success of Hunter Biden’s claim will depend on “whether the privacy laws override the congressional oversight interests.”
“The current lawsuit alleges violations of Hunter Biden’s privacy by whistleblowers who revealed details about his alleged influence peddling and special treatment,” he wrote. “However, this testimony was elicited by Congress as part of a corruption investigation.”
“The core of these allegations will turn on the initial public disclosures before Congress and whether the privacy laws override the congressional oversight interests in these hearings,” he continued. “Most courts are leery in limiting the scope of such oversight hearings and investigations.”
Shapley’s legal team called the lawsuit a “frivolous smear” intended to “intimidate” whistleblowers in a statement Monday.
“This suit against the IRS is 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,” Shapley’s legal team said. “The federal judge in Delaware who oversaw the aborted plea deal shot down similar claims against the whistleblowers after they exposed the secret backroom deal between Hunter Biden and the Department of Justice.”
“Neither IRS SSA Gary Shapley nor his attorneys have ever released any confidential taxpayer information except through whistleblower disclosures authorized by statute,” his team continued. ” Once Congress released that testimony, like every American citizen, he has every right to discuss that public information.”
GOP members of the House Oversight Committee similarly came to the whistleblowers’ defense.
“These IRS whistleblowers do not deserve the smear campaign Hunter Biden’s legal team is waging,” they said in a statement. “Witness intimidation is just another dirty tactic by the Hunter Biden legal team. Despite their games, our investigation will continue.”
Hunter Biden’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.
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