Charles Littlejohn, 38, pleaded guilty in October last year to one count of unauthorized disclosures of income tax returns after leaking Mr Trump’s and thousands of other’s tax records.
His plea agreement states that he stole Mr Trump’s tax returns as well as the tax information of “thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people”. At the time, he was working for a consulting firm with IRS contracts.
Mr Littlejohn shared the tax information with two news outlets and subsequently deleted the documents from his laptop, which had been issued by the IRS, before handing it back. He also removed the places where he had previously stored the information to remove any traces, CNN noted.
“What you did in attacking the sitting president of the United States was an attack on our constitutional democracy,” Judge Ana Reyes told Mr Littlejohn. “We’re talking about someone who … pulled off the biggest heist in IRS history.”
She added that his actions constituted a “threat” to US democracy which “engenders the same fear that January 6 does,” in reference to the Capitol riot in early 2021.
Prosecutors argued that Mr Littlejohn made great effort to get hold of the records without detection, including by downloading information onto an iPad and later uploading it to a private site that he subsequently removed.
Judge Reyes criticised the Department of Justice for only bringing one count against Mr Littlejohn.
“The fact that he did what he did and he’s facing one felony count, I have no words for,” she said, according to CNN.
Prosecutors said the single count covered several leaks and thefts by Mr Littlejohn.
In a legal filing recommending that Mr Littlejohn face the maximum penalty of five years in prison, prosecutors wrote that “A free press and public engagement with the media are critical to any healthy democracy, but stealing and leaking private, personal tax information strips individuals of the legal protection of their most sensitive data”.
In court on Monday, Mr Littlejohn said that he “acted out of a sincere misguided belief”. He added that he was working in service of the country and that the public had a right to the information he shared with the press.
“We as a country make the best decisions when we are all properly informed,” he said, adding that he had been “aware of the potential consequences” and that he knew he would end up in court.
“My actions undermine the fragile faith” in the American government, he said.
Mr Littlejohn admitted last year that he leaked Mr Trump’s tax information to The New York Times in 2019 and the tax information of thousands of wealthy Americans to ProPublica in 2020.
The outlets published stories revealing that Mr Trump and other wealthy Americans for several years paid either little or no federal taxes.
Prosecutors argued in a legal brief that Mr Littlejohn “weaponized his access to unmasked taxpayer data to further his own personal, political agenda, believing that he was above the law”.
Mr Littlejohn’s defence team argued for a term of eight to 18 months. They said his actions were “the product not only of his misguided idealism but of life experience that led him to treat each day as if it were his last”, citing his younger sister dying in 2013 and his father being diagnosed with a disease in 2019, according to The Washington Post.