Washington, D.C. – At a Senate Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, U.S. Senator Susan Collins questioned U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland about the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) fiscal year 2022 budget request. Specifically, she asked Attorney General Garland about efforts to safeguard the privacy of Americans’ tax returns and address police recruitment and retention problems that have been exacerbated by the “Defund the Police” movement.
Referencing a ProPublica article based on thousands of American citizens’ IRS tax returns that were illegally obtained, Senator Collins observed, “Any taxpayer should be guaranteed that their privacy will be protected when they provide information and file their returns with the IRS. As we saw during Watergate, there is an incredible danger to private citizens and the credibility of the federal government if information is used for political or other purposes. Anything short of the highest degree of privacy protection for taxpayers’ information could cause them to be far less willing to provide the information that is required by the IRS for full compliance.”
Senator Collins asked, “Does the Department of Justice have any information about the origin of this breach? And what steps is the Department taking to investigate, identify, and apprehend those responsible?”
“This is an extremely serious matter,” Attorney General Garland responded. “People are entitled, obviously, to the greatest privacy with respect to their tax returns.”
Attorney General Garland assured Senator Collins that IRS leadership is already looking into the origin of the breach. “This was on my list of things to raise after I finished preparing for this hearing, and I promise you it will be at the top of my list,” he said.
Pivoting to police reform, Senator Collins raised the issue of police departments across the country that are experiencing police recruitment and retention challenges. “In every single case where I've talked to police officers and police chiefs, they say that it is due to the fact that there's been this vilification of law enforcement, rather than trying to strengthen and improve practices of police departments, and that the ill-conceived ‘Defund the Police’ movement has also led to significant problems,” she said.
“And this isn't just in our largest cities; we're seeing difficulties with recruitment and retention in rural Maine. For example, Van Buren, Maine, a small community in northern Maine, has completely disbanded its police department because it can't hire officers,” Senator Collins continued. “The town of Fort Kent, Maine, which has about 4,000 people, and last year responded to 5,000 different calls, can't get enough officers and is considering disbanding its department as well.”
“Anecdotally I've heard some things like you're saying,” Attorney General Garland told Senator Collins. He went on to say that he didn’t have sufficient survey data to adequately answer the question.