Hunter Biden sued the US Internal Revenue Service on Monday, alleging the agency violated his privacy rights as it investigated his tax affairs.
The business career of the US president’s son is at the centre of Republican attempts to impeach Joe Biden over unsubstantiated allegations of corruption.
Hunter Biden faces criminal charges regarding his tax affairs and a purchase of a gun. In his lawsuit against the IRS, filed in US district court in Washington DC, he said “whistleblower” agents disclosed information that should have remained private.
“IRS agents have 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,” the suit said.
It also described an “assault on Mr Biden’s rights involv[ing] the public disclosure of his confidential tax information during more than 20 nationally televised and non-congressionally sanctioned interviews and numerous public statements”.
The suit added: “No government agency or government agent has free rein to violate his rights simply because of who [Hunter Biden] is.”
Biden is seeking $1,000 in damages “for each and every unauthorised disclosure of his tax return information”, as well as costs and attorney fees.
In testimony before Congress, an IRS supervisory special agent, Greg Shapley, and a second agent, Joe Ziegler, claimed a pattern of “slow-walking investigative steps” into Hunter Biden. They alleged the prosecutor overseeing the investigation, the Delaware US attorney, David Weiss, did not have full authority to bring charges in other jurisdictions. Weiss and the US justice department have denied that.
On Monday, Shapley’s lawyer called Hunter Biden’s lawsuit a “frivolous smear” that sought to “intimidate any current and future whistleblowers”, adding that Shapley did not release confidential tax information except through legal whistleblower disclosures.
“Once Congress released that testimony, like every American citizen, he has a right to discuss that public information,” a statement said.
Ziegler’s lawyer said he would “continue to speak out” about what he considers “special treatment” for Hunter Biden.
The Republican-controlled House oversight committee called Shapley and Ziegler “good people who did everything right to obtain whistleblower protection with the best interest of our country in mind”.
The IRS declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Last week, Hunter Biden was indicted on charges relating to a gun purchase initially covered, with tax charges, by a plea deal which fell apart earlier this year. Biden is now reportedly set to face new tax charges from Weiss, who is now working as a special counsel, with a high degree of independence from justice department leadership.
Also on Monday, in a letter to Jason Smith, the Republican chair of the House ways and means committee, reported by the Washington Post, the Biden lawyer Abbe Lowell said accountants now believed Biden was in fact owed a refund, for “overpayments of tax”.
The Republican impeachment effort is doomed to fail, given Democratic control of the Senate – and given the paucity of evidence unearthed. Nonetheless, the White House is fiercely pushing back.
On Monday, the White House impeachment war room pointed reporters to a Washington Post column by Ken Buck of Colorado, a conservative impeachment skeptic; a “comical Freudian slip” by Mike McCaul of Texas, the House foreign affairs chair who told Fox News “we don’t have the evidence now but we may find it later”; a New York Times report that said Republicans’ own witnesses “have undercut or pushed back against some of their major claims”; and a link between James Comer of Kentucky, the House oversight chair, and a promoter of the QAnon conspiracy theory.
But the Post also pointed to the strength of the Republican drive to link the president with his son in the public eye, when it profiled Garrett Ziegler, a 27-year-old Trump White House staffer turned “scorched-earth activist trying to take down Hunter Biden”.
Ziegler, the Post said, “is at the vanguard of a sprawling network of Biden antagonists, from rightwing media organisations to congressional leaders to [pro-Trump, Make America Great Again] activists, that is focused intensely on the president’s son.
“They see Hunter Biden’s activities as his father’s biggest political vulnerability, a conclusion reflected in the House GOP’s recent decision to launch an impeachment inquiry.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting