Former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said November 17 that he did not intend to disclose that the president filed his tax returns, following allegations that the disclosure may have violated section 6103.
Tax lawyers debated November 16 whether and to what extent the former commissioner ran afoul of section 6103 taxpayer privacy provisions prohibiting current and former IRS officials from disclosing a taxpayer’s filing status. Asked by Politico during an interview published November 15 whether he would release President Trump’s tax return, Koskinen replied, “It’s in a locked cabinet in a locked room that nobody’s in.” His use of the third-person singular pronoun to describe the president’s tax return may be considered a disclosure of Trump’s filing status.
“I did not mean to disclose any information, and everybody, I think, assumes the president filed his return, and I was talking about where all the presidents’ returns were kept,” Koskinen told Tax Analysts. “If it’s a violation of 6103, it clearly was inadvertent.”
“From the president’s standpoint, it probably doesn’t hurt him that everybody knows he does file his returns,” Koskinen added. Some tax attorneys suggested that, since Trump has complained loudly about being under IRS audit, he’s already acknowledged filing a return.
Koskinen also defended his allegiance to the principles of section 6103 .
“We take 6103 seriously and prize the privacy of every taxpayer,” the former IRS commissioner said. “The questions [about his alleged 6103 violation] are good ones. It never occurred to me in responding to that general question, but to the extent it did reveal information, we take that seriously.”
On the Line
For another alleged violator of section 6103 , Koskinen’s responsibility is as clear-cut as his own predicament is unjust.
William Henck, senior attorney in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel in Richmond, Virginia, said he is being forced to retire at the end of November, more than four years early because he blew the whistle on a multi-billion-dollar fraud, with the IRS claiming he violated section 6103 privacy protections in the process.
“I think Koskinen is far more in violation of 6103 than I am, because I never, ever identified a taxpayer,” Henck told Tax Analysts November 17. “Whereas Koskinen clearly identified a taxpayer, and that is the purpose of the statute: to protect taxpayer privacy.”
Koskinen refused to comment on Henck’s situation. “I don’t know anything about that case, and even if I did, we treat personnel matters within the agency the same way we do taxpayer information.” Koskinen said. “So I couldn’t talk to you if I did.”
The Office of Chief Counsel asked the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to investigate Henck after he talked with the Washington Post and Tax Notes Today in 2014 about the “black liquor” alternative fuel credit that Henck said was being abused by multinational corporations to the tune of billions of dollars. Henck’s on-record comments to reporters constituted the charge that he violated section 6103, Henck said.