Justin Hiemstra, a native of St. Paul Park, Minn., told the judge he and his friend, Andrew Harris, just wanted to see if they could get the return. They didn't discuss what they would do with it if successful.
The then-sophomores logged into two computers at Haverford using two other students' credentials and filled out a federal financial aid application in the name of an unnamed Trump family member, prosecutors said. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the pair found that someone else had already set up a a username and password for Donald Trump. The students managed to answer securit questions to reset the password, and, using Trump's Social Security number and date of birth, repeatedly tried to import the president's federal tax information into the application, according to court documents.
Ultimately, the attempt failed, and the U.S. Department of Education and IRS detected the activity.
Hiemstra's attorney Michael van der Veen describes it simply as a challenge.
"My client is an intelligent, inquisitive and idealistic young guy and he thought he could get the tax returns that were promised to him by the candidate," he said.
Trump has long refused to release his tax returns, saying they are under audit.
"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," U.S. Attorney William McSwain, a Trump appointee, said in a statement Tuesday.
Hiemstra's sentencing was set for December, but the judge said she may reschedule it to allow Hiemstra to complete a language and math fellowship in Kazakhstan.
Prosecutor Anthony Wzorek says it's an important case for privacy rights.
"If your tax returns were being accessed, or mine were, it's just as important as Donald Trump's. You assume they're going to be kept private, they are kept private by the IRS. When people try and break into the website and obtain those tax returns, it violates everybody's rights," Wzorek said.
Harris, the other defendant, also hopes to resolve the case with a plea, according to his lawyer, William J. Brennan. They expect to be in court in September.