Attorney General Merrick Garland told lawmakers Wednesday that investigating the source of a massive leak of taxpayer information behind an article by investigative news outlet ProPublica will be one of his top priorities.
"I promise you, it will be at the top of my list," Garland assured Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, during a budget hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The former federal judge said that at the moment he knew nothing more than what he learned from reading the sprawling article, which revealed that in some recent years billionaires such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and businessmen Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn and George Soros paid no federal income taxes.
"Senator, I take this as seriously as you do. I very well remember what President [Richard] Nixon did in the Watergate period — the creation of enemies lists and the punishment of people through reviewing their tax returns," Garland said. "This is an extremely serious matter. People are entitled, obviously, to great privacy with respect to their tax returns."
The ProPublica article, expected to be the first in a series, did not reveal how the journalists obtained the tax records, and the outlet did not respond to a request for comment. The article says the investigation is based on "a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation's wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years."