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Meet the Guy Sent to Prison for Supposedly Trying to Get Trump’s Tax Returns
Jordan Hamlett is still putting his life back together—and has an eye on how much more gently Trump is being treated.
JORDAN HAMLETT KNOWS how it feels to get railroaded. To be targeted by a politicized indictment. To sit in a courtroom agonizing over how this could possibly be his life, when he was only trying to fix a problem.
In other words: everything Donald Trump has claimed he’s experienced, only for real.
But like so many others who have suffered miscarriages of justice, Hamlett didn’t have the tools that the former president has used to push back against the system. When Johnny Law came for Jordan Hamlett, the boys in blue didn’t let him surrender on his own by way of a private jet. Or make exceptions to help him avoid a humiliating detainment. They didn’t spare him the mug shot or the ankle bracelet. Or keep his house nice and tidy during their raid.
Hamlett doesn’t have his own social media network where he can live-bleat his grievances. Or throngs of supporters sending him $47 for hagiographic merch. Or senators warning about the imminent threat to the republic were he to be held to account. Or a media ecosystem that sustains itself through spreading the good news of his martyrdom.
Hell, while he was under house arrest during pretrial release, they didn’t even let him keep his cell phone or laptop to contact the outside world.
All Jordan Hamlett was left with after he was targeted was Donald Trump’s Social Security number; 27 months’ worth of isolation, pain, and regret; and the scars that form after the government tries to make an example out of you for reasons other than justice.
HAMLETT’S STORY goes something like this.
It was September 2016, a few weeks out from the election. The news was full of dramatic stories of Russian hackers and baskets of deplorables and Hillary’s health. But it was a story about candidate Trump’s tax returns that caught his attention.
Hamlett, then a private investigator by trade, spent a lot of his time on the web tracking down individuals for his clients through social media. He had recently come across an IRS web tool on the government’s FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) website that would make it easy to access other people’s tax returns using only a handful of pieces of personal information. He had previously emailed the IRS to warn them that this system could be easily breached, but never got a reply.
So later that day, on a whim, Hamlett decided he might get the attention of someone at the IRS by putting the presidential candidate’s data into the widget to see what it spit out. He found Trump’s Social Security number via googling—it had been leaked online previously thanks to the hacker group Anonymous and others—then he went to the FAFSA site, put in the candidate’s name, date of birth, and SSN, and created an account tied to a new email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because the FAFSA web tool was meant for school counselors and others who want to help students find financial aid information, there were fields for entering an additional name and contact as the intermediary. Hamlett put in his own info, figuring that would make it easy to contact him when someone inevitably identified the screwup.
When Hamlett clicked submit, the system crashed, rather than providing the tax information he expected. He now assumes that is because Trump’s tax returns were flagged for his protection.
(Relevant aside: This special treatment for Trump was nice for him and all, but future victims of the scam Hamlett was trying to alert the government to were not granted the same protection. In April 2017, the IRS admitted that as many as 100,000 taxpayers could have been compromised by this vulnerability with $30 million being fraudulently obtained.)
After filling out the forms with Trump’s info and not getting anywhere, Hamlett tried to call the IRS again to alert them to the issue but never got through the labyrinthine phone system to speak to an actual agent.
Having not had any success, he went about his day, not giving it any more thought.
All that changed a few weeks later when an undercover agent who had been pretending to hire Hamlett for P.I. work to track an imaginary cheating spouse asked him to come to a Baton Rouge hotel for a purported meeting about the job. When Hamlett arrived at the hotel, he was greeted not by a prospective client but a phalanx of FBI officers who questioned him about his alleged plot to receive Trump’s tax returns. At the time, the bureau wasn’t aware if he had been successful and “feared a public release of Trump’s tax returns could influence the election.” (I guess nobody told these fed boys about The Left’s “weaponization of government” and the Deep State plot to stop Trump.)
During his humiliating hotel lobby interrogation, Hamlett found out that there was another group of agents at his home. They had booted down the door, overturned many of his belongings, and confiscated his computer equipment in a vain attempt to identify additional criminal behavior.
“I was like, there was a key under the mat,” he deadpanned.
Soon after, Trump was elected. And the next year, Hamlett was indicted on a single count of false representation of a Social Security number. This supposed attempt at election interference was averted. Meanwhile Hamlett spent the next year in an ankle bracelet, under house arrest, awaiting trial.
It was during this pretrial period that Hamlett—who at the time was still allowed to go to work and other approved locations—was stopped at gunpoint by U.S. marshals in a Walgreens parking lot because his ankle bracelet wasn’t charged, despite the fact that he had reported it as defective. After that his movements were further restricted and communications devices confiscated.
“I had no access to phone, computer, or internet. Couldn’t leave the house. Barely got to see [my daughter],” he said.
Eventually, after the judge who his lawyers believed would be more understanding of the circumstances passed away, he decided to plead out, assuming he would receive probation—as a pair of college students in Pennsylvania charged with a similar crime would in 2019.
Instead he received an 18-month prison sentence, of which he served 15. “It was a laid-back prison, but it’s still a prison. There were stabbings,” he said.
To sum up the farcical treatment of Jordan Hamlett by the justice system: One year of house arrest. Another 15 months in prison. Lost time with his daughter he’ll never get back. All for putting Trump’s Social Security number—which had already been leaked—into a government website to demonstrate that it was vulnerable to fraud.
How does Alvin Bragg’s treatment of the former president look compared to that?
I TALKED TO HAMLETT about all this on Tuesday, a few hours after Trump was released on his own recognizance, his ankles free to breathe.
Hamlett was coming home from a new job that he was grateful for, but not what he dreamed of. He now does IT and custom networking for a local company in Lafayette, Louisiana. He can no longer be a private investigator in Louisiana thanks to the felony. Nor can he vote.
“It’s a quieter life,” he says, with a bit of melancholy.
It’s a life that doesn’t bear much resemblance to the out-loud existence being led by the criminal defendant whose tax returns Hamlett had tried to access. As Hamlett and I spoke, the former president was free to fly back to his luxurious resort home for an evening press-conference-cum-party, with unmolested access to his flip phone and all his personal effects, a personal videographer in tow.
Hamlett is trying to get better at letting the resentment over how he was treated just wash away. In a text after our first exchange he wrote: “Did it sound a little bitter. . . . I am lol, just don’t want to be so obvious about it.”
And yet the contrast between the way he was treated and the claims of persecution from Trump and his minions is obvious.
“They flat-out said they want to make an example out of me. Everyone was scrambling to make an example out of me,” Hamlett said. While the Manhattan DA has leveled 34 charges against Trump, Hamlett notes that in his own case there was just one charge:
I had one count of misuse of a Social Security number. . . . That’s the only thing they could even come up with to charge me because it was hard to prove I was doing anything illegal. They couldn’t charge me for hacking because I didn’t hack anything. . . . I was turned into a political pawn by those seeking favor and headlines in a new administration.
Hamlett’s frustration extended beyond the political. He had no red-hatted donors or blue-suited congressmen rushing to his defense. In fact, the intensity of his house arrest—phoneless and cut off from the internet as if he had actually been a hacker—meant there was nobody at all.
“It was the most isolating experience of my life. . . . Friends or families would show me the articles and it was infuriating because I couldn’t explain my side of it. There was no way for me to talk about it. Meanwhile half the world hated me. To this day, I still get messages about what a piece of shit I am.”
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In prison he got to hear firsthand from others who were victims of the two-tiered system of justice. “You start to see a lot of people in the same position who didn’t get a fair sentence, who didn’t get a fair trial,” he said in a 2021 interview with Vice. “Now, just like in real life, tons of them are criminals, tons of them are frauds, but there are also the people who were defrauded [themselves] and taken advantage of by a system.”
It also hit Hamlett hard on the home front. On house arrest and then, of course, while in prison, he lost valuable time with his teenage daughter, who lived with his ex-wife. Our interview was pushed back a day so he could make it to one of her school events.
“We’re still dealing with and trying to make up for lost time,” he told me. “For over two years, I barely got to see her. . . . It was a strain on our relationship that I’m working to fix.”
SLOWLY, EXCRUCIATINGLY SLOWLY, Hamlett is putting the pieces of his life back together. He recently went on a trip to California, getting out in the woods, away from the nonsense.
His conclusion from the whole affair is that maybe some of those upset about justice and the law have a point, just not the one that they think they have.
My resentment is towards the legal system as a whole. It’s not used to target one side or the other, it’s used to go after whoever they need. . . . So I don’t want to hear about Republicans being “targeted.” Because believe me. . . . I know what it feels like.
What Hamlett learned the hard way is that Trump used to have it right when he talked about the criminal justice system. Back when he recognized he was the beneficiary, not the victim of our societal mores.
The truth is, when you’re not a star, they don’t let you do it.
Even if your intentions are good.