College student who sought Trump tax returns in cyber 'prank' to plead guilty

(Reuters) - A recent graduate of Pennsylvania’s Haverford College who tried to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns through a computer lab there has agreed to plead guilty to cybersecurity violations, federal prosecutors said on Monday.

Justin Hiemstra, 22, of St. Paul Park, Minnesota, is expected to enter his plea on Tuesday in the federal court in Philadelphia to two misdemeanor counts of unauthorized computer access. He faces a maximum two years in prison and a $200,000 fine.

Hiemstra and Andrew Harris, who was also a Haverford student, were accused of trying to illegally obtain Trump’s tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service on Nov. 2, 2016, six days before the presidential election.

The college is located in Haverford, Pennsylvania, roughly 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Philadelphia’s Center City.

A lawyer for Hiemstra did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“This was a college prank gone awry,” Harris’ lawyer William J. Brennan said in an interview. “My client did not fully contemplate the potential collateral effects of his actions, wishes the president and his family no ill will, and is sorry for the inconvenience that may have been caused to them.”

Asked if Harris plans to plead guilty, Brennan said: “I anticipate a non-trial resolution.”

Thomas Lee, a lawyer for Haverford, said Hiemstra graduated in May, and Harris is not currently enrolled at the college. He said Haverford’s only role was to provide information requested by federal investigators “as specifically required by law.”

Prosecutors said Harris came up with the idea of getting Trump’s tax returns through the website for the Department of Education’s Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), an application he had completed himself.

According to prosecutors, Harris went to Hiemstra’s dormitory room to explain his idea, and both men went to the Roberts computer lab at Haverford to carry it out, accompanied by Hiemstra’s girlfriend. She was not charged.

Hiemstra and Harris allegedly created a false FAFSA account under the name of a Trump family member, and tried to access Trump’s account by answering security questions.

They then used a Social security number previously disclosed for Trump to attempt to get his tax records, prosecutors said. Four attempts were made, according to the IRS.

The case is U.S. v. Harris et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, No. 19-cr-00412.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio