Hunter Biden files lawsuit against IRS

Is the best defense a good offense? What happens when the offensive turns out to be a really dumb and potentially self-defeating strategy? Ladies and gentlemen, we may be about to find out.

Hunter Biden’s attorneys have decided to sue the IRS rather than wait around for another indictment for tax evasion. The complaint? Whistleblowing to Congress and the media violated the privacy Hunter cultivated by, er … riding on Air Force Two for his business trips:

“This lawsuit is not about the legitimacy of the IRS investigation of Mr. Biden over the past five years or any decision to penalize Mr. Biden for any failure to comply with his obligations under the tax laws,” Biden’s attorneys wrote in the suit.

“Rather, 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,” it added later.

The suit points to testimony from two IRS agents that worked on the broader Justice Department probe, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, who alleged the Biden investigation was slow-walked by prosecutors.  

The two men spoke with the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this summer and also testified before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee in July.

But the suit targets what it says were “20 nationally televised and non-congressionally sanctioned interviews” discussing the investigation.

Biden’s suit seeks $1,000 for “each and every unauthorized disclosure of his tax return information” made by the two men. 

Biden’s attorneys have previously targeted the two men’s whistleblower status, and the Monday suit notes that attorneys for the Ways and Means Committee opened their meeting by noting the need to avoid any unlawful disclosures.

The suit also states that the House Oversight Committee is not among those permitted to review tax information in a closed setting.

Still the bulk of the suit focuses on interviews given by Shapley or his attorney, saying they erred in going beyond confirming the existence of the investigation and releasing new details about Biden’s taxes, including the tax years for the alleged violations as well as the amounts. It’s information that “could only be known to them based on a review of the physical tax returns themselves,” the suit argues.  

“These agents’ putative ‘whistleblower’ status cannot and does not shield them from their wrongful conduct in making unauthorized public disclosures that are not permitted by the whistleblower process,” is says.

“In fact, a ‘whistleblower’ is supposed to uncover government misconduct, not the details of that employee’s opinion about the alleged wrongdoing of a private person.”

The investigation into Biden’s taxes have become a focal point in the GOP impeachment inquiry into his father, with three different committees reviewing claims that special counsel David Weiss mismanaged the investigation. They are also probing a plea deal related to Biden’s failure to pay taxes that fell apart before it could be approved by a judge.

Shapley has also claimed that Weiss sought and was denied special counsel status – something both Weiss and DOJ have denied. Weiss, the U.S. Attorney for Delaware, was elevated to the status in August.

Weiss last week brought three different gun charges against Biden relating to failure to acknowledge drug use when purchasing a weapon. But he has yet to file tax charges.

Biden’s lawyers on Monday said the disclosures are “undermining Americans’ faith in the IRS and the purported confidentiality of its investigations.” 

“Mr. Biden has no fewer or lesser rights than any other American citizen, and no government agency or government agent has free reign to violate his rights simply because of who he is. Yet the IRS and its agents have conducted themselves under a presumption that the rights that apply to every other American citizen do not apply to Mr. Biden,” the suit claims.

It’s true that personal tax forms and filings are supposed to be kept private, even for public persons — a point Democrats conveniently overlooked with Donald Trump. But that’s not the same issue as dealing with tax investigations. The returns are private, but not necessarily any criminal or civil violations resulting from them — especially when the evidence of such misconduct has already been made public through other means. The laptop had some evidence of manipulated income streams, for example, and public comment/testimony from figures like Tony Bobulinski had tended to corroborate some of it.

Furthermore, the specific information released in House investigations of the matter are privileged, and again we can cite the Trump tax-return effort by Democrats as a precedent. To the extent that IRS agents/investigators brought this information to House Oversight, though, that is completely legitimate. They didn’t just dig up Hunter’s tax data on a whim, after all; the IRS and the Department of Justice had collaborated for years on criminal investigations of Hunter Biden. The IRS agents/investigators brought the information to Congress to allege that the DoJ had lied about their independence in the investigation and had acted corruptly in allowing the statute of limitation to run out on some charges rather than incur the ire of Hunter’s dad, also known as President Joe Biden.

Indeed, whistleblowers not only have an option to inform Congress of potential corruption and malfeasance, one can even argue that they have a duty to do so.

Now, if the IRS agents/investigators had first gone to the media, then they wouldn’t be whistleblowers — they’d be leakers and liable for that violation. But that doesn’t appear to be what’s being alleged by Biden.

Team Hunter wants to hold the whistleblowers accountable for the eventual publication of this material by House Oversight and its subsequent publication by the media (such as it was). Once they notified the relevant congressional committee and the data was made public, the whistleblowers can and did comment in the media about their testimony, but that was a function of the committee’s public hearings, not the IRS nor the whistleblowers. Trying to apply liability for accurate congressional testimony to the witnesses will not go well for the Bidens.

As for the subsequent media appearances and the additional disclosures outside of congressional testimony, Team Biden may have a somewhat stronger argument, but I doubt a court would take it seriously. To the extent that more specific issues in Hunter’s tax claims were revealed, it was to expose alleged misconduct and corruption in the DoJ, a matter of serious public concern and obviously a legitimate issue for congressional oversight. Revealing the “hookers and blow” business expenses made clear just how egregious the failure to press felony charges actually was. And besides, it’s tough to argue that this testimony was more damaging or even novel after the exposure of the laptop data and the public corroboration of it by Bobulinkski and others.

It’s hard to take this seriously, in other words, as anything other than an intimidation tactic to silence potential corroborators, and as a PR stunt. Hunter’s legal team wants to paint him as a victim of the vast machinery of, er, um … his father’s administration. In doing so, they hope to distract attention from the more serious questions not of Hunter’s tax evasion but of his father’s participation in Hunter’s business affairs and the disposition of the firehose of foreign income that filtered through the 20 or so LLCs controlled by Bidens over the last several years. More than $20 million has already been identified through suspicious activity reports (SARs) from Treasury, and the tax implications of that may also be of interest even apart from the corruption issues.

The problem for Hunter is that this lawsuit will allow for a lot more of that conversation to take place, especially if it moves to discovery. It raises the stakes by doubling down on Hunter’s supposed victim status. They are now publicizing the case even further with their “offense” strategy in a manner reminiscent of Hunter’s inexplicable decision to fight his baby momma rather than quietly settle the case. Hunter ended up ‘winning’ in most aspects of that contest, but only after publicizing his very strange claims to be indigent while driving an expensive car and living in high-priced SoCal housing. This has much lower chances for success in court but practically dares the media to keep doing deep dives into Hunter’s finances.

Sometimes Clausewitz’ (?) strategy of the best defense being a good offense pays off. Other times, the War Games strategy applies: “Sometimes, the winning move is not to play.”

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