Hunter Biden sued the Internal Revenue Service on Monday, saying investigators for the agency violated his privacy rights by disclosing details to Congress and the public about his taxes and the investigation into his conduct.
Biden, the president’s son, filed the suit days after the Justice Department indicted him on separate charges relating to his purchase of a handgun in 2018. The decision to go ahead with the suit shows that he and his legal team are continuing to take an aggressive stance in fending off inquiries from congressional Republicans even as he faces the possibility of further prosecution on tax charges by the Justice Department amid his father’s reelection campaign.
The suit, filed in US District Court in Washington, asserts that IRS investigators violated the agency’s rules on taxpayer privacy and “targeted and sought to embarrass Mr. Biden via public statements to the media in which they and their representatives disclosed confidential information about a private citizen’s tax matters.”
It points to the public testimony and statements by two IRS investigators, Gary Shapley and Joseph Ziegler, who have been providing information to House committees seeking evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden and his family. Shapley and Ziegler have told House Republicans that they believe the Justice Department inquiry into Hunter Biden’s taxes was influenced by politics.
That claim has been disputed by Attorney General Merrick Garland and David Weiss, the US attorney for Delaware who has overseen the case and was recently given special counsel status by Garland.
Hunter Biden “has all the same responsibilities as any other American citizen, and the IRS can and should make certain that he abides by those responsibilities,” the suit says.
“Similarly, 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,” it says. “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 IRS agents, their lawyers, and House Republicans have said they followed the law in how the information about Biden was disclosed to Congress. They have said the disclosures were legally protected because they were covered by whistle-blower protections and were ultimately made public by the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax issues.
In a statement, Shapley’s lawyers described the suit as “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.”
Neither Shapley “nor his attorneys have ever released any confidential taxpayer information except through whistleblower disclosures authorized by statute,” the lawyers said. “Once Congress released that testimony, like every American citizen, he has a right to discuss that public information.”
The suit, filed by Biden’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, disputes that argument. Aside from the disclosures to Congress, the suit says, the agents and their lawyers made public other details about the investigation to the news media in more than 20 interviews and public statements. Some of those statements went beyond what the agents had told Congress, the suit said.
“Mr. Shapley and Mr. Ziegler went a step further and disclosed new allegations that had not previously been released by the committee on Ways and Means,” the suit said. “For example, in a July 20, 2023, interview with Jake Tapper of CNN, Mr. Ziegler alleged for the first time publicly that he had recommended felony and misdemeanor charges for Mr. Biden for tax year 2017. Under oath, Mr. Ziegler had previously stated that he only recommended misdemeanor charges for Mr. Biden for tax year 2017.”
Along with making claims that Biden received preferential treatment from the Justice Department, the IRS agents have disclosed details from the investigation that were potentially damaging to Biden and his father. Shapley told a House committee that a search warrant had uncovered evidence that Hunter Biden had invoked his father — who was out of office at the time — while pressing a Chinese businessperson to move ahead with a proposed energy deal.
“Tell the director that I would like to resolve this now before it gets out of hand, and now means tonight,” Biden wrote, referring to other participants in the proposed deal. “And, Z, if I get a call or text from anyone involved in this other than you, Zhang, or the chairman, I will make certain that between the man sitting next to me and every person he knows and my ability to forever hold a grudge that you will regret not following my direction.”
House Republicans have maintained that the investigators’ disclosures to Congress were legal because they were revealing government corruption.
While the suit involves the IRS, it is not directly related to the Justice Department’s investigation into Biden’s conduct.
Biden’s lawyers sent a letter to Weiss on Monday outlining similar complaints about investigative material that has been disclosed to the public during the investigation.
In June, Biden and Weiss’s office announced they had reached a deal in which Biden would plead guilty to misdemeanor tax charges and a separate agreement to head off a gun charge.
Biden’s side believed the deal marked the end of the long-running investigation, which Republicans and former president Donald Trump hoped would inflict political damage on the president.
But the plea deal came apart at the last minute, during a court hearing in July. Weiss’s office indicted Hunter Biden last week on three counts of violating gun laws, alleging that he had lied about his drug use on a federal form when he purchased a handgun in Delaware five years ago.
Biden could also still be indicted on tax charges related to the late filing of his returns for several years and disputes over deductions he took.