Joe Biden Appointee Ana Reyes Imposes Maximum Sentence to Avenge Donald Trump’s Privacy

Judge Ana Reyes just sentenced Charles Littlejohn — the guy who stole the Donald Trump tax returns behind this story and the tax returns behind this ProPublica series — to five years in prison, the statutory maximum sentence for the single count to which he pled guilty.

NBC reports that in the sentencing hearing, Judge Reyes likened his crime to that of January 6ers, who believe they’re doing good, even while they attack the country.

“You can be an outstanding person and commit bad acts,” Reyes said. “What you did in targeting the sitting president of the United States was an attack on our constitutional democracy,” she added.

Reyes compared Littlejohn’s actions to other recent attacks and threats against elected officials as well as to Jan. 6 defendants she has recently sentenced. She described his actions as a deliberate, complex, multiyear criminal scheme, but said she believed he “sincerely felt a moral imperative” to act as he did.

I’m sure you’ll hear little about the fact that a namby pamby Biden appointee imposed this sentence.

But Judge Reyes just delivered accountability for Joe Biden’s opponent (and set a precedent for those who’ve been leaking Hunter Biden’s tax information for years).

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48 replies
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  2. ItTollsForYou says:

    “…an attack on our Constitutional Democracy” is an extreme stretch when every President since Nixon has furnished their tax information to show that they were “not a crook.” I don’t know how the appeals process works here, but this sentence seems outrageous.

    • ecsCoffee says:

      I’m not sure I have an opinion about what is a fair length of prison time, but I think it’s helpful to note that he apparently didn’t just steal Trump’s tax returns, but the also the tax info of thousands of other Americans, not all of them famous.

      • Norskieflamethrower says:

        Thank you ecs, that is the point of the Biden appointed judge’s statement.

        [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the SAME username and email address each time you comment so that community members get to know you. It was probably a mistake that you used just the letter “N” instead of your most recent username “Norskieflamethrower,” but you’ve had a history of different usernames here. Please clear your browser cache and check your autofill. I have edited your username this once but future variations may not clear moderation. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • xyxyxyxy says:

      A crime is a crime, whether you have a good excuse or not.
      Lots of J6ers had the excuse that Trump “made them do it.”
      Tough luck.

    • Peterr says:

      Yes, all kinds of presidents freely offered their tax returns for public scrutiny, but Trump did not.

      If I invite folks to my home for a football watch party, and provide beverages and food for the party, that’s one thing. On the other hand, if folks break into my home without my permission, and take my beverages, food, and television, that’s stealing.

      This is stealing, plain and simple, and the sentence seems to me to be exactly right.

      And, as Marcy notes, the leaker(s) of the Hunter Biden tax information might be a bit nervous to discover that there is a judge who takes this kind of theft seriously.

      .

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Yes, tax filing leakers, especially those critical of HB, are on notice that not only is what they’re doing a crime, but that they can do prison time for it. Not quite like having to pay an $83m penalty, but it’s going the right direction.

      • ItTollsForYou says:

        Stealing, yes; that’s uncontroversial. But “an attack on our Constitutional Democracy”? C’mon.

        Reading the ProPublica reporting, I’d argue Littlejohn was closer to performing a public service. I won’t celebrate this sentence just because it might mean bad news for people I don’t like.

        I guess it’s a good thing I’m not a judge!

        • ItTollsForYou says:

          Missed the edit window

          I’m sure Littlejohn was aware of the risks. 5 years isn’t the worst deal, all things considered.

    • P J Evans says:

      The taxpayer is allowed to release their own returns.What this guy did is ILLEGAL: he released the returns of *other people*, without their consent.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Yes, they can release them, even if they’re under audit – whether that’s a real audit or a lie, used to avoid releasing them.

      • timbozone says:

        Not only that, but that appears to have been his pre-determined plan when he took the job at IRS. Further, he also appears to have released this information knowing that there might be severe criminal consequences for his action. IANAL but, given that he pled guilty here, I’m thinking his chance to succeed on appeal for a more lenient sentence is unlikely.

        I do note though that the prosecutors filing for the sentencing seems to have a few lies and half-truths in it. The prosecutor should be sanctioned for that filing IMO. Sadly, the latter is unlikely to happen as, alas, our current justice system seems to periodically revel in kicking the downtrodden and/or guilty a few extra times for the heck of it. IANAL.

  3. Mister_Sterling says:

    This sentence is ridiculous. The maximum sentence in a ‘white collar’ Federal case with a guilty plea? George Santos might not get half that sentence for doing what we’d agree is worse (money laundering both inside and outside a US House campaign). Is this an example of Michelle Obama’s “we go high”? Judge Reyes isn’t going to be accused of going soft on Democrats, no sir. She has integrity!

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      LOL. This was a deal for the defendant. Represented by someone more able than Alina Habba, he was accused of abusing a position of trust and of illegally obtaining tax filings and information on thousands of individuals, including Trump, Bezos and Musk. He could have been charged with as many felonies as the number of people whose information he illegally obtained. He pled guilty to a single felony.

      • Marji Campbell says:

        So I was physically present in the courtroom for the sentencing. The judge repeatedly asked the prosecutor why other counts weren’t included. He repeatedly replied that because the defendant pleaded, the DOJ had not made any determinations. And he repeatedly stated that it would not have made a difference- the recommended sentence would still be the same. Ianal, but my understanding is that the sentences would have run concurrently anyway. It was a very intense sentencing.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          I can see why the judge was curious, and wanted to better understand the DoJ’s position. If the defendant stole thousands of files, he could have been charged with one or more felonies for theft/misuse of each person’s information. They would probably have run consecutively. A single count would have been easier to prove than two thousand. But five years is nothing to sneeze at.

    • timbozone says:

      It seems like it’s an appropriate sentence given the evidence, charge, and guilty plea, although there I do think the prosecutor should be sanctioned for his jaundiced and off filing at sentencing.

  4. Ebenezer Scrooge says:

    Five years is serious time. But Littlejohn committed a breach of trust. If I remember correctly, Dante consigned breachers of trust to the lowest circle of hell.

    • N.E. Brigand says:

      Yes, in the very center of the ninth (innermost) circle of Dante’s hell,* a three-headed Satan, who betrayed God, is imprisoned in ice and endlessly chewing the souls of Brutus and Cassius (consigned there for having betrayed Julius Caesar) and Judas (who betrayed Christ).

      *Dante conceived of this as being at the very center of the world, which he understood to be round (this was 1321, more than 150 years before Columbus sailed: a useful reminder that people did not think the world was flat), although he thought the hemisphere opposite Eurasia and northern Africa consisted entirely of water except for the island mountain of Purgatory, which was imagined as lying on the other side of the world from Jerusalem. Dante and his guide Virgil climb down Satan’s back though a small gap in the ice and then climb up through the world to Purgatory.

      • FL Resister says:

        I wonder what classical allegorical portion of mythological worlds Donald Trump is inhabiting atm.

        Perfect there is a stiff penalty for releasing IRS info considering the plundering of Hunter’s privacy by right-wing tools.

  5. Tech Support says:

    I think you can have a reasonable argument about the effectiveness of harsh sentences as a deterrent for others, but the theft (and abuse) of private data by insiders has such a low barrier for potential perpetrators to climb over. Easy to do, easy to rationalize, easy to get away with under the right circumstances.

    I’m assuming here that a certain degree of leniency was baked in because of the plea deal where he only pled to a single count.

    • Badger Robert says:

      Every word Ms. Wheeler writes is important. As noted above, “single count” were two important words.

  6. Savage Librarian says:

    Z is for Zealot

    Z is for Ziegler and Z is for zealot,
    Attack the Constitution, then sell it
    first to the public, later the appellate,
    to see how far you can propel it.

    Z is for zealot and Z is for Ziegler,
    Will he offer up another jiggler?
    Maybe a malignant, ghastly squiggler,
    Or even a Billy Club laptop wriggler!

  7. David F. Snyder says:

    “We may do whatever we like, providing we can pay the bill.” (R. Fripp). Anyway, Marcy, I don’t expect MAGAts to pay any attention to reality or give credence to the judicial branch when the case involves Trump. Still, it’s good to keep that fact in the public eye.

  8. OnKilter says:

    Hunter Biden has filed a lawsuit alleging IRS agents illegally released his tax information and that the agency failed to protect his private records. The agents (not mentioned in the lawsuit) are suspected to be Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler.

    These two have “made new allegations and public statements regarding Mr. Biden’s confidential tax return information that were not previously included in their transcripts before the Committee on Ways and Means.”

    https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/18/politics/hunter-biden-irs/index.html

    So why haven’t they been arrested and subjected to a criminal trial?

    • P J Evans says:

      This is real life, not TV, where everythign gets wrapped up quickly. It takes months or years to get to trial.

    • vigetnovus says:

      Ahhh…you’re not from around these parts are you?

      As we denizens of EW have learned lo these past 8 years, there is no parole in the federal system.

      There may be time reduction for good behavior, but no parole.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      On a five-year sentence, a model prisoner could earn a maximum time off for good behavior of just under 8 months, owing to the BOP’s creative math in applying the statute (18 USC 3624). A pro-rata portion vests every year. A prisoner can screw up, too, and not earn any time off for a given year.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          My understanding is that in the federal system you must serve a minimum of 85% of the sentence. I find that easiest to remember.

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            For sentences over one year, a model prisoner can accumulate up to 47 days time off for good behavior per year. The statute says 54, but the BOP gets away with its own math. Earned time off vests annually. A good thing, as there is a long list of infractions that can lead to loss of unvested time off.

  9. I Never Lie and am Always Right says:

    The sentence was entirely appropriate IMO. Taxpayers who file tax returns must have confidence that their tax return information will remain confidential. Otherwise chaos ensues.

    IRS has dozens of attorneys who do nothing but handle legal issues relating to the disclosure of tax return information. IRS employees are given training about the rules governing disclosures of tax return information.

    Contractors who do work for IRS must abide by the same rules re disclosure of tax return information as IRS employees.

    If you find yourself unable to sleep, go read section 6103 of the internal revenue code, which governs disclosure of tax return information. It’s very long. Denser than a Le Carre novel.

  10. LaMissy! says:

    Binyamin Appelbaum makes the case that tax returns ought to be what they once were, public information:

    When Congress first imposed an income tax between 1861 and 1872, the government published the names of taxpayers as well as their incomes and the amounts they paid. In 1924, following the enactment of the modern income tax, Congress again made income and tax payments public records, which one senator described as “the price of liberty.” Wealthy Americans hated the publicity and soon convinced Congress that tax returns should be treated as state secrets.

    Littlejohn was wrong to break that law, but we should all be trying to change it.

    https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/01/24/opinion/thepoint/trump-tax-return-public?smid=url-share

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      An anachronistic argument. When first instituted, and then reinstituted after the passing of the 16th Amendment, few people paid income tax. Today, the vast majority of Americans file an income tax return.

      • ColdFusion says:

        To be fair, we should go back to the system where most people don’t pay income tax. Personal income under $100-125k should require no tax, when there are trillions hoarded by a few. They whine that they already pay most of the taxes, let’s make it true.

  11. CovariantTensor says:

    This suggests the issue of civil disobedience, which I’ve brought up here before (and gotten into some trouble over). If you believe you have a righteous cause and are willing to break the law for it it’s all well and good, as long as you’re willing to pay the penalty for it. This guy is getting it, willingly or not. For all that it accomplished it’s not worth going to jail over IMO.

    Not a lawyer, but I believe judges have discretion to impose the statutory maximum sentence. Is it appealable?

    You certainly won’t hear on the right wing media that a namby pamby Biden appointee imposed such a sentence. It goes against the narrative that Joe Biden is weaponizing the justice system.

    • Rayne says:

      Advocating breaking the law in protest has its limits. As an example, who was harmed by Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers? Were anybody else’s rights violated with that civil disobedience? Ellsberg was willing to pay the price for his protest but he also didn’t damage other private citizens.

      Littlejohn didn’t target Trump alone who was an elected official and owed some degree of transparency to the public; he targeted private citizens. We already know the rich don’t pay their fair share in taxes without having to violate their privacy. He’s fucking lucky the price he’ll pay isn’t higher for his stunt.

      You should also be thinking about the fact the Roberts court has systematically attacked privacy — that’s what Roe and Griswold were founded on, as a couple examples. If violating others’ privacy becomes normative through civil disobedience by way of overbroad targeting, such protest only supports the steady attack and erosion of human right of privacy.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Littlejohn also seems to have offended very wealthy people with long memories, who have full-time resources designated to protect their privacy and reputation. He will be lucky, if they regard five years in the pokey, minus any time off for good behavior, as sufficient punishment.

  12. Error Prone says:

    If Trump is elected he could grant Littlejohn a pardon. A step like that would gain attention.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2024/01/29/us/politics/irs-trump-taxes-prison.html

    “Mr. Littlejohn was also sentenced to three years of supervised release, 300 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine.” I am unclear about what “suervised release” entails, if other readers could help.

    What sentence did the DoJ suggest for this single count plea? Did Littlejohn go into the hearing expecting something much lighter? Or was the deal only one count, but max sentence?

  13. Error Prone says:

    https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/4435665-ex-irs-consultant-sentenced-to-5-years-in-prison-for-leaked-tax-returns/

    “Prosecutors requested a five-year sentence for Littlejohn, purporting he applied to work with the IRS with the intention of accessing and disclosing tax returns.”

    He got five years. If those whose data he stole feel he got off easy, the DoJ used its discretion in bargaining a single count plea, so that their beef would be with the plea deal – not the sentence. Biden appointee or not, prosecutors asked for five years and the judge gave five. Context matters.

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