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FBI called in to probe how bombshell tax details of America’s billionaires were leaked to ProPublica

The FBI has been called into investigate the leaking of a trove of IRS documents which showed some of America’s richest residents paid zero federal income tax in recent years. 

Details in the documents were laid bare in a bombshell ProPublica article published on Tuesday, which found that ‘billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth’. 

The CEOs of ProPublica – a non-profit news site – admitted in an accompanying article that they did not know the identity of the person or persons who provided them with the IRS documents.  

‘We have considered the possibility that information we have received could have come from a state actor hostile to American interests,’ they said.

On Thursday, Douglas O’Donnell, the IRS’s deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, stated that other outside agencies have been contacted as part of a probe to figure out how the confidential tax records leaked out. 

The FBI has been called into investigate the leaking of a trove of IRS documents which showed some of America’s richest residents paid zero federal income tax in recent years

The documents were used for a bombshell ProPublica article published on Tuesday , which revealed that 'billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth'

The documents were used for a bombshell ProPublica article published on Tuesday , which revealed that ‘billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth’

‘Treasury announced yesterday that they made investigative referrals to their Office of Inspector General as well as the FBI, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia,’ O’Donnell told a House Ways and Means committee panel Thursday. 

‘We fully support any investigation under taken and will urge the investigative ‘authorities to keep Congress appropriately informed of their findings.’ 

FBI Director Christopher Wray separately told a House hearing Thursday that the FBI has not yet made any arrests or executed any search warrants in relation to the case. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray separately told a House hearing Thursday that the FBI has not yet made any arrests or executed any search warrants in relation to the case

FBI Director Christopher Wray separately told a House hearing Thursday that the FBI has not yet made any arrests or executed any search warrants in relation to the case

It comes after former economic council director Larry Kudlow, who served as director of the National Economic Council under President Donald Trump, called for a thorough investigation into the leaking of he documents.

Speaking on Fox Business, Kudlow suggested the leaker could have corrupt motives and called it ‘a little more than coincidental’ that ProPublica released its report so close to announcements by Democrats and President Joe Biden about efforts to bolster IRS funding and raise taxes on the rich. 

‘Tax records are supposed to be confidential, but the muckraking group ProPublica, it’s kind of left-of-center, they just happened to get their hands on tax records of a number of very rich Americans,’ Kudlow stated. 

‘Then they just happened to put this out publicly on the eve of a left-wing ‘tax the rich’ campaign. Now that kind of strikes me as a little more than coincidental, but truly we don’t know for sure.’ 

Earlier this week, a Treasury spokeswoman chimed in on the leaking of the documents saying: ‘The unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information is illegal’.

‘Any unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information by a person with access is illegal, and we take this very seriously,’ Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said on Tuesday. 

Ex-National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow called for an investigation into the leak of tax information on the wealthiest Americans Wednesday

Ex-National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow called for an investigation into the leak of tax information on the wealthiest Americans Wednesday

A report based on the leaked data revealed that the country's top earners such as Jeff Bezos paid little to no income tax in recent years

Elon Musk

A report based on the leaked data revealed that the country’s top earners such as Jeff Bezos (left) and Elon Musk (right) paid little to no income tax in recent years

What the data reveals

The trove of records showed that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011, while Tesla boss Elon Musk’s income tax bill came to zero in 2018.

Investor George Soros went three straight years – between 2016 and 2018 – without paying federal income tax, according to the records. 

Fellow investor Carl Icahn did not pay federal tax in 2016 and 2017. 

In reviewing the tax data, the site calculated what it called a ‘true tax rate’ for the billionaires by comparing how much tax they paid annually from 2014 to 2018 to how much Forbes estimated their wealth had grown in that same period. 

The report found that, overall, the richest 25 Americans pay less in tax than the average worker does. 

The median American household, in recent years, earned an average salary of about $70,000 and paid 14 percent in federal taxes per year.

Based on data from the 25 richest Americans, they collectively paid a true tax rate of 3.4 percent between 2014 to 2018 on wealth growth of $401 billion.  

Warren Buffett, the CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has avoided the most tax in recent years, according to the records.

Warren Buffett, the CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has avoided the most tax, according to the records. Between 2014 and 2018, Buffet's wealth grew by about $24.3 billion but he reported paying $23.7 million in taxes. It showed a so-called true tax rate of 0.1 percent

Warren Buffett, the CEO and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, has avoided the most tax, according to the records. Between 2014 and 2018, Buffet’s wealth grew by about $24.3 billion but he reported paying $23.7 million in taxes. It showed a so-called true tax rate of 0.1 percent

Investor Carl Icahn, who is ranked the 40th wealthiest American with an estimated fortune of $14.9 billion, didn't pay federal income tax in 2016 and 2017. He is pictured with wife Gail Golden

Investor Carl Icahn, who is ranked the 40th wealthiest American with an estimated fortune of $14.9 billion, didn’t pay federal income tax in 2016 and 2017. He is pictured with wife Gail Golden

TAX DATA FOR RICHEST AMERICANS: 2014 to 2018 
Warren Buffett   
Year Total taxes paid Total income reported 
2014  $7.93 million  $46.8 million 
2015  $1.85 million  $11.6 million 
2016  $3.82 million  $19.6 million 
2017  $4.75 million  $22 million 
2018  $5.36 million  $24.8 million 
Jeff Bezos     
Year  Total taxes paid  Total income reported 
2014  $85.4 million  $367 million 
2015  $126 million  $542 million 
2016  $320 million  $1.35 billion 
2017  $398 million  $1.68 billion 
2018  $43.5 million  $284 million 
Elon Musk     
Year  Total taxes paid  Total income reported 
2014  $30.4 million  $165 million 
2015  $78.5K  $3.15 million 
2016  $42 million  $1.34 billion 
2017  $73.7K  $6.22 million 
2018  $8.41K  $3.85 million 
Source: IRS DATA OBTAINED BY PROPUBLICA 

Between 2014 and 2018, Buffet’s wealth grew by about $24.3 billion but he reported paying $23.7 million in taxes.

It showed a so-called true tax rate of 0.1 percent, which equates to less than 10 cents for every $100 Buffet added to his wealth in that period.  

For Bezos, his wealth grew an estimated $99 billion and his total reported income was $4.22 billion between 2014 and 2018. 

In that period, Bezos paid $973 million in tax, which equates to a 0.98 percent true tax rate. 

In 2007 when Bezos paid no income tax, the Amazon founder – in a joint tax return with then-wife MacKenzie Bezos – reported $46 million in income, which was mostly from interest and dividend payments from investments. 

He was able to offset his earnings with losses from other investments and deductions. 

In 2011, his tax return showed he had lost money and he claimed a tax credit worth $4,000 for his children. 

George Soros, the founder of Soros Fund Management, has an estimated wealth of $8.6 billion. He paid no federal income tax between 2016 and 2018, according to the records. He is pictured with wife Tamiko Bolton

George Soros, the founder of Soros Fund Management, has an estimated wealth of $8.6 billion. He paid no federal income tax between 2016 and 2018, according to the records. He is pictured with wife Tamiko Bolton

ProPublica reported that Mike Bloomberg, who is the 13th richest American with an estimated wealth of $48 billion, hasn't paid federal taxes in recent years but did not specify when. His spokesman noted that when he was running as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate he had advocated for tax hikes

ProPublica reported that Mike Bloomberg, who is the 13th richest American with an estimated wealth of $48 billion, hasn’t paid federal taxes in recent years but did not specify when. His spokesman noted that when he was running as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate he had advocated for tax hikes

Elon Musk’s wealth grew an estimated $13.9 billion between 2014 and 2018. He reported $1.52 billion in total income and paid $455 million in taxes. It equates to a 3.27 percent true tax rate. 

In 2018, Musk paid no federal income tax. The records show he paid $68,000 in 2015 and $65,000 in 2017.  

Investor Carl Icahn, who is ranked the 40th wealthiest American with an estimated fortune of $14.9 billion, didn’t pay federal income tax in 2016 and 2017. 

Records show he reported, at the time, an adjusted gross income of $544 million. According to the IRS records, he had an outstanding Bank of America loan of $1.2 billion.

HOW CAN THE SUPER-RICH PAY LOWER TAXES? 

Many billionaires are able to reduce their federal tax bills using legal tax strategies.  

Among the ways they can reduce tax bills are:

Making sizable donations to charity

The rich can reduce tax bills through the use of charitable donations. 

They can deduct up to 60 percent of adjusted gross income with donations. 

Investing in stocks to avoid wage income

The rich can reduce taxes by avoiding wage income, which can be taxed at up to 37 percent.

They can instead benefit from investment income, which is often taxed at 20 percent.

Paying themselves lower salaries

If the mega-rich pay themselves a lower salary, they can then take a higher portion of the income as dividends.

The lower salary is then taxed a normal rate. Dividends are often taxed the same as the capital gains rate, which is between 15 to 20 percent.

Another option is to opt for part of their compensation in their company stock options. Stock is usually only taxed when the options are exercised.

Icahn told ProPublica that his adjusted gross income is misleading because his interest on his loans is higher. 

‘I didn’t make money because, unfortunately for me, my interest was higher than my whole adjusted income,’ he said. 

Icahn hit back at questions over whether he thought it was inappropriate he hadn’t paid federal income tax some years.

‘There’s a reason it’s called income tax,’ he said. ‘The reason is if, if you’re a poor person, a rich person, if you are Apple – if you have no income, you don’t pay taxes. 

‘Do you think a rich person should pay taxes no matter what? I don’t think it’s germane. How can you ask me that question?’ 

Michael Bloomberg’s wealth grew $22.5 billion between 2014 and 2018 – a period where he reported a total income of $10 billion.

Bloomberg paid $292 million in taxes during that time, which is a 1.30 percent true tax rate.

ProPublica reported that Bloomberg, who is the 13th richest American with an estimated wealth of $48 billion, hasn’t paid federal taxes in recent years but did not specify when. 

His spokesman said in a statement that when Bloomberg was running as a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate he had advocated for tax hikes. 

‘Mike Bloomberg pays the maximum tax rate on all federal, state, local and international taxable income as prescribed by law,’ a statement read. 

‘Taken together, what Mike gives to charity and pays in taxes amounts to approximately 75 percent of his annual income. 

‘The release of a private citizen’s tax returns should raise real privacy concerns regardless of political affiliation or views on tax policy. In the United States no private citizen should fear the illegal release of their taxes. We intend to use all legal means at our disposal to determine which individual or government entity leaked these and ensure that they are held responsible.’  

George Soros, the founder of Soros Fund Management, has an estimated wealth of $8.6 billion. 

He paid no federal income tax between 2016 and 2018, according to the records.  

‘Between 2016 and 2018 George Soros lost money on his investments, therefore he did not owe federal income taxes in those years. Mr Soros has long supported higher taxes for wealthy Americans,’ his spokesman said. 

After examining the IRS records, ProPublica found that Americans earning between $2 million and $5 million per year paid an average of 27.5 percent in tax. 

Meanwhile, the top .001 percent of taxpayers – the 1,400 people whose reported income came in at more than $69 million – paid 23 percent in tax. 

Many billionaires are able to drastically reduce their federal tax bills using legal tax strategies.

Among the ways they can reduce tax bills is via charitable donations or by avoiding wage income, which can be taxed at up to 37 percent. Instead, they can benefit from investment income, which is taxed roughly at 20 percent. 

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