Finance

Yellen: Disclosure of tax data to ProPublica a 'very serious situation'

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Wednesday that the disclosure of confidential taxpayer data to ProPublica is a "very serious situation" and that she'd keep Congress updated on investigations into the matter.

"This was a very serious situation, and I and the Treasury Department take very seriously the protection of government data," Yellen said during a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

She said that the issue has been referred to the Treasury inspector general and the Department of Justice. She also said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration are looking into the matter.

ProPublica last week published an article detailing the taxes of prominent U.S. billionaires, indicating that many paid little or no taxes. The report was based on confidential data obtained from an anonymous source.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have said it's important to protect taxpayers' information and have called for probes into the disclosure to ProPublica.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said that the unauthorized disclosure of wealthy Americans' tax data "undermines the confidence in the agency."

Yellen said that it's very early in the investigative process.

"We're only one week out on this, and I really want to emphasize we do not know what happened," she said, in response to a question from Thune. "We don't have any facts at this point." 

Later in the hearing, Yellen added that "we do not know that it was a leak from the IRS."

Yellen said she'd keep lawmakers updated. She told Thune that when Treasury sees the results of the investigations, "if there are actions that we need to take to shore up the protection of this information, you have my absolute word that we will do so."

- updated at 11:56 a.m.

 

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