Photo by Michele Doying / The Verge
Two college students are facing federal prison time for attempting to hack into President Trump’s tax returns, as reported by CyberScoop. Andrew Harris, 24, and Justin Hiemstra, 22, tried to import the president’s financial records through a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Both men have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor accounts for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and face up to two years behind bars.
In 2016, when Trump was running for office, he refused to release his tax returns as most presidential candidates do. The tax returns have become a much-sought item for liberal activists in the subsequent years, and the subject of intense reporting by The New York Times and other publications.
“this was two knuckleheads in college”
Around this same time, Harris, then a student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, realized he might be able to access the returns by filling out a fake FAFSA application for the candidate. The FAFSA application uses tax information to calculate student loans — it also allows people to import filings directly from the IRS so long as they have a social security number and other personally identifying information. Harris knew Trump’s social security number, as it had already leaked.
Harris then went to Hiemstra and together they hatched a plan to get Trump’s tax returns and leak them to the media. On November 2nd, 2016, they went to the computer lab on campus and tried to create a FAFSA account for a Trump family member. When they realized an account already existed, they reset the password by answering security questions (reader, they Googled it). Then, they tried to use Trump’s social security number to import his federal taxes. They were not successful.
“This wasn’t Russian hacking, this was two knuckleheads in college,” Harris’ lawyer William J. Brennan told The Verge. “[Harris] wishes no ill will towards the president and his family and he’s sorry for any inconveniences he’s caused the Trump family.” When asked whether he agrees with the classification that Harris was the “mastermind” behind this operation, Brennan laughed. “That’s like being the tallest midget in the circus.”
Harris’ sentencing date is scheduled for December 16th. His lawyers plan to ask for a more lenient sentence as this is his first offense.