WASHINGTON — The IRS commissioner has asked the Treasury Department’s internal watchdog to immediately review the circumstances surrounding intensive tax audits that targeted ex-FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, frequent targets of Donald Trump’s ire during his presidency.
IRS spokesperson Jodie Reynolds said Thursday the agency has officially referred the matter to the inspector general for tax administration after Commissioner Charles Rettig, who was nominated to the job by Trump and is a close ally of the former president, personally reached out.
Reynolds insisted it is “ludicrous and untrue to suggest that senior IRS officials somehow targeted specific individuals” for such audits.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that the former FBI leaders were subjected to rare IRS audits of their tax returns. The newspaper said Comey was informed of the audit in 2019 and McCabe learned he was under scrutiny in 2021. Rettig, who term is set to expire in November, faced blistering criticism from Democrats for helping to shield Trump’s tax returns from the public.
Trump repeatedly attacked Comey and McCabe over the FBI’s Russia investigation that shadowed his presidency for years. Trump fired Comey in 2017 in the midst of that investigation, which ultimately was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller, named to that job by Trump’s Justice Department.
The FBI inquiry began in the summer of 2016, months before Trump was elected. The bureau had learned that a former Trump campaign aide had been saying, before it was publicly known, that Russia had dirt on Trump’s Democratic rival for the White House, Hillary Clinton, in the form of stolen emails.
Those emails were hacked from Democratic email accounts by Russian intelligence. They were released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks before the election in what U.S. officials have said was an effort to harm Clinton’s campaign and help Trump’s. Trump repeatedly called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
A 2019 review by the Justice Department’s inspector general knocked down multiple lines of attack against the Russia investigation, finding that officials properly opened the inquiry and that law enforcement leaders were not motivated by political bias. The watchdog did identify a number of problems in the investigation, leading the FBI to take steps aimed at fixing some fundamental operations, such as applying for surveillance warrants and interacting with confidential sources.
McCabe was fired in March 2018 after the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded he had authorized the release of information to a newspaper reporter and then misled internal investigators about his role in the leak. The termination by Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general at the time, came hours before McCabe was due to retire.
McCabe won back his full pension as part of a settlement of his lawsuit arising from his firing. The settlement agreement vacated that decision, expunged from his personnel folder references to the firing and entitled McCabe, who joined the FBI in 1996, to his full pension.
According to the IRS website the audits the two men and their wives underwent are part of a program that randomly selects tax returns to examine tax compliance and improve the system.
McCabe, in comments on CNN, where he is a law enforcement analyst, described the two audits as a “coincidence that … really is almost impossible statistically” and said they raised questions that should be answered. He said it was ”appropriate for the IRS to do the responsible thing and look into it and determine whether or not something, you know, went awry in this program.”
Comey said in a statement that he could not say whether anything improper happened, “but after learning how unusual this audit was and how badly Trump wanted to hurt me during that time, it made sense to try to figure it out.”
A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked Thursday whether Biden has confidence in Rettig, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre simply noted that his term is set to expire later this year.
“He is going to be up in November, so I will leave it there,” Jean-Pierre said.