How an IRS Contractor Leaked Tax Data on Trump, Bezos and Musk

Donald Trump speaks at New York State Supreme Court in New York

What You Need to Know

Charles Littlejohn stole tax information on thousands of wealthy Americans and leaked it to several media outlets.
ProPublica noted it published stories about tax data that spanned more than 15 years.
Littlejohn pleaded guilty to a single charge that carries a prison term as long as five years.

A former Internal Revenue Service contractor used a private website to store secret tax return information he stole about former President Donald Trump and leaked to the New York Times, court records show.

Charles Littlejohn, 38, pleaded guilty Oct. 12 to stealing Trump’s data from the IRS and leaking it to the Times. He also stole tax return information about thousands of wealthy Americans — including Ken Griffin, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos — and leaked it to ProPublica.

The manner in which Littlejohn pulled off one of the most egregious security breaches in IRS history was revealed Sunday in a court filing.

Lawmakers and government watchdogs have repeatedly warned about about lax safeguards at the IRS, which processed 260 million tax returns last year. The filing said nothing about Littlejohn’s motive.

How the Data Was Hidden

To avoid detection, Littlejohn accessed Trump’s tax return and other information in late 2018 by querying an IRS database using more “generalized parameters” rather than directly searching for the former president’s data, according to the filing.

He then uploaded the data to a personal, private website he controlled rather than downloading it to a physical storage device or using a remote storage website.

That allowed him to “avoid IRS protocols designed to detect and prevent large downloads or uploads” from agency devices or systems, according to the filing, which lays out the factual basis for his guilty plea.

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That day, he used a personal computer to download the data from the private website, storing it in multiple locations, including personal data storage devices like his Apple iPod. In May 2019, he contacted the Times about leaking Trump’s tax data, disclosing it between August and October of that year.

In September 2020 — weeks before Trump lost the election to Joe Biden — the Times  published the first of several stories, revealing he paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and no taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years.

Littlejohn used a similar method, including a private website, to store data he stole on thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people before leaking it to ProPublica, the filing shows. They included billionaires Griffin, Bezos and Musk. The news outlet noted in the series it published about the tax data that it spanned more than 15 years.