By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana private investigator pleaded guilty on Monday to misusing Donald Trump’s Social Security number in repeated attempts to access the candidate’s federal tax information during the presidential campaign.
Jordan Hamlett, 32, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine following his guilty plea in federal court.
Authorities have said Hamlett failed in his attempts to get Trump’s tax returns through a U.S. Department of Education financial aid website.
The Lafayette resident was indicted in November 2016 and had been scheduled to start this week, but the judge originally assigned to the case died on Saturday after a brief illness. U.S. District Court Judge John deGravelles has not yet scheduled Hamlett’s sentencing hearing .
Defense attorney Michael Fiser had argued Hamlett didn’t have any “intent to deceive” and simply tried “out of sheer curiosity” to discover whether Trump’s tax information could be accessed through the government website.
Every president since Jimmy Carter has released tax returns in what has become an American tradition during presidential elections. Trump has refused to release his.
Federal agents confronted Hamlett two weeks before last November’s election and questioned him in a Baton Rouge hotel lobby. At the time, the agents didn’t know if Hamlett had been successful, and they feared a public release of Trump’s tax returns could influence the election, according to a transcript of court testimony earlier this year.
Treasury Department Special Agent Samuel Johnson testified in March that Hamlett immediately took credit for his “genius idea” to seek Trump’s tax returns from the financial aid website.
Johnson also said investigators asked Hamlett if he was familiar with Anonymous, an internet hacking group.
“At that time, Anonymous had been established as people that have released some of President Trump’s personal identifying information and things of that nature,” Johnson testified.
Federal prosecutors had asked to bar Hamlett’s lawyer from presenting a trial defense that that he was acting as a benevolent “white hat” hacker.
James J. Brady, a senior federal judge who died Saturday at a Baton Rouge hospital, ruled last month that Hamlett couldn’t testify that he had a “good purpose” in attempting to test security flaws in the website.
Fiser said Hamlett had tried to call and notify the IRS about the flaws last September, on the same day he tried to electronically access Trump’s tax records.
Fiser said Hamlett liked to test security systems for weaknesses in his spare time and would notify system administrators if he found a system vulnerable to a security breach. Hamlett once discovered a security flaw that allowed for public access to the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office’s “raw” reports on open investigations and exposed personal information about police officers.
“Hamlett tipped the sheriff’s office to the flaw and was met with thanks and appreciation, not an arrest,” his attorney wrote in a recent court filing.
After his indictment, Hamlett was arrested again in August for allegedly violating conditions of his pretrial release. Prosecutors said he committed “numerous violations,” including hacking into email and social media accounts of a man at the request of the man’s wife.