The IRS said Thursday that its commissioner, Charles P. Rettig, had asked the inspector general who oversees tax matters to investigate how James B. Comey, the former FBI director, and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe – both seen as enemies of former President Donald J. Trump faced rare and extensive audits that the agency says are meant to be random.
“The IRS has referred the matter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for review,’ the agency said in a written statement, adding that Mr Rettig had ‘personally contacted’ the inspector’s office. general after reading the audits.
The IRS disclosure came a day after The New York Times reported that Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe had been subject to audits that only target several thousand Americans a year and are highly invasive.
In response to the story, Democrats also called for an inspector general investigation. They raised questions about whether Mr. Trump – who has a long history of trying to use the federal government for his political means – had played a role in ordering the audits. Both audits were conducted at a time when Mr. Rettig, who was appointed by Mr. Trump in 2018 for a term due to expire in November, was leading the agency.
“Donald Trump has no respect for the rule of law,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, “so if he tried to subjugate his political enemies to further scrutiny from the IRS, it wouldn’t surprise anyone.. We need to understand what happened here because it raises serious concerns.
A spokesman for the treasury inspector general responsible for tax administration did not return an email seeking comment on whether the inspector general had opened an investigation.
Under federal law, it is illegal for any official or executive branch employee — with some exceptions — to ask the IRS to audit or conduct an investigation of someone’s taxes. If an IRS employee becomes aware of such a request, the employee is required to report it to the Inspector General. Defendants convicted of breaking the law can face up to five years in prison.
At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dodged questions about whether President Biden, who decided to keep Mr. Rettig in place as IRS commissioner when he took over function, trusted him to run the agency fairly.
“I’m going to say it’s up in November,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.
In 2017, the tax year for which Mr. Comey was audited, the IRS says it randomly selected about 5,000 returns for audit from the 153 million people who filed them. For 2019, the year for which Mr McCabe was audited, the agency says it selected around 8,000 statements out of the roughly 154 million that were filed.
It is unclear how two close associates came to be audited under the same audit program in the space of a few years. Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe both told The Times they had questions about how the audits were carried out.
Mr Trump said he had no knowledge of the audits. The IRS has denied any wrongdoing.
“Federal privacy laws prevent us from discussing specific taxpayer situations,” the IRS said in a statement released Thursday. “Audits are handled by career officials, and the IRS has strong safeguards in place to protect the review process — and against politically motivated audits. It is ludicrous and false to suggest that senior IRS officials have somehow targeted specific individuals for National Research Program audits.
Former IRS officials and tax lawyers said that because Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe were attacked so frequently by Mr. Trump – who pushed for their prosecution and accused them of treason – an inspector general or a congressional committee should investigate the matter.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Richard E. Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts, sent a letter to Inspector General J. Russell George requesting an investigation.
“The American people must have complete confidence in the IRS and in the fair administration of our tax laws,” Mr. Neal said. “I am very concerned about the impact on public trust resulting from allegations that the IRS has been used to retaliate against political enemies.”
Mr. Neal asked the inspector general to investigate whether the audits were truly random, whether political appointees or Mr. Trump’s staffers played a role in the selection process and who, at the The IRS or the Treasury Department may add or remove taxpayers from the list of those selected for audit.
Prominent House Ways and Means Committee member Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas, said he supports the investigation into all allegations of political targeting at the IRS, then sought to tie the issue to criticism that Republicans had directed to the tax agency under Democratic administrations. .
“As we have learned from the repeated targeting of conservative groups and the dangerous leaks of private tax returns during the Obama and Biden administrations, the IRS should never be used as a weapon against political opponents,” Mr. Brady.
A longtime critic of Mr. Rettig, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, who previously called on Mr. Rettig to step down over unrelated issues, reiterated that demand Thursday.
“The IRS under Donald Trump’s handpicked commissioner, Charles Rettig, has been one disaster after another,” said Pascrell, who is chairman of the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee. “The audit of two law enforcement officials at Trump’s request is a titanic scandal.”
Mr. Pascrell added: “If Mr. Rettig cared about this agency, he would resign today. And if he doesn’t, Mr. Rettig should be impeached.
Chris Cameron and Michael D. Shear contributed report.