IRS whistleblower should be lauded, not jailed

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Charles Littlejohn is a former Internal Revenue Service (IRS) contractor who saw tax crimes of the privileged and decided to do something about it. He exposed information on thousands of über-wealthy like Donald Trump and Jeff Bezos. Attempts to avoid paying the measly pittance owed by the mega-rich were brought under scrutiny.

For this so-called crime, of informing the U.S. public of corruption at the highest levels, Littlejohn has been sentenced to five years in federal prison. He should have been given a medal.

The U.S. tax system is profoundly unfair. The well-off can hire lawyers and accountants to find loopholes. A CEO can wind up paying a lower tax rate than a teacher. And many pay no income taxes at all. Others willingly break the law in attempts to avoid any payment.

Take, for instance, Trump. He was the first presidential candidate since the 1970s to refuse to share his tax returns with the public. Based on Littlejohn’s revelations, journalists were able to show that Trump had paid little to no taxes for years — fraud on a massive scale. The records Littlejohn made public were used to report on this and other acts of corruption in The New York Times and ProPublica.

Ana Reyes, the judge who sentenced Littlejohn, accused him of attacking democracy itself because he released the confidential records of a sitting president. She is wrong. The real attack on democracy is being conducted by the U.S. government against whistleblowers like Littlejohn.

The public’s right to know about the activities of their government is crucial to a functioning democracy. When this is denied, the people lose any hope of accountability and democratic norms are strangled.

All whistleblowers deserve praise and gratitude for sharing important facts with the public. They are not terrorists or criminals, despite the harsh treatment many of them receive.

In an era of increasing attacks against truth-tellers, it is more important than ever to stand in solidarity with these folks.

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