00:31 GMT21 September 2020
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    A 22-year-old man from St. Paul, Minnesota, pleaded guilty Tuesday to trying to illegally obtain US President Donald Trump’s tax returns a few days before the 2016 presidential election.

    Justin Hiemstra, who was a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania at the time and has since graduated, created a fake Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) under the name of a Trump family member using a school computer, according to the Justice Department.

    A second defendant, Andrew Harris, who was also a student at Haverford College at the time, allegedly came up with the idea of retrieving Trump’s tax information this way. It is unclear exactly what role Harris played in the incident. 

    Once Hiemstra found an account under the name Donald Trump, he was able to successfully change the password on that account by correctly answering security questions.

    Hiemstra then used Trump’s information, such as his Social Security number and date of birth, in an attempt to import Trump’s federal tax information into the application. However, the US Department of Education and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) detected the suspicious activity after Hiemstra’s attempts failed several times. 

    “No matter what you think about the President’s tax returns, clearly this kind of illegal activity cannot be tolerated or condoned. Unauthorized or false attempts to obtain any citizen’s IRS filings are a serious violation of privacy rights and a federal crime, and there’s nothing funny about it,” US Attorney William McSwain said in a recent statement.

    Hiemstra now faces a $200,000 fine and up to two years in prison. 

    Michael van der Veen, Hiemstra’s lawyer, has indicated that his client planned to travel to Kazakhstan in December, staying in the country for a period of several months. Prosecutors have since approved the trip, agreeing that Hiemstra will be sentenced for his crime upon his return to the US.

    “They didn’t give it much forethought, and they certainly didn’t consider consequences,” McSwain noted. “But for this fluke, he is level-headed, socially conscious, and he stood up today in court and took full responsibility for his conduct,” he added.

    Harris is hoping to settle the case with a plea, according to his lawyer, William J. Brennan.

    “This is a college prank that just went awry,” Brennan told media outlets. “He certainly has no ill will or malice toward the president of the United States and his family, and he is very remorseful for any inconvenience he caused him.”


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    prison, hacking, tax returns, Donald Trump, United States
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