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IRS asks Inspector General to review Comey and McCabe audits

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The IRS said Thursday that its commissioner, Charles P. Rettig, had asked the tax inspector general to investigate how James B. Comey, the former FBI director, and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe — both enemies of former President Donald J. Trump — faced rare, exhaustive audits that the agency said would be arbitrary.

The IRS has referred the matter to the Inspector General of the IRS for review,” the agency said in a written statement, adding that Mr. Rettig had “contacted the Inspector General’s office personally” after discussing the matter. audits had heard.

The IRS disclosure came a day after The New York Times reported that Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe had been the subject of audits that target only a few thousand Americans each year and are highly invasive.

In response to the story, Democrats also called for an inspector general’s investigation. They raised questions about whether Mr. Trump — who has a long history of attempting to use the federal government for its political resources — 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 expected to expire in November, was leading the agency.

“Donald Trump has no respect for the rule of law,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden, “so if he tried to subject his political enemies to additional IRS scrutiny, no one would astonishment… We need to understand what happened here because it raises serious concerns.”

A spokesperson for the Inspector General of the Tax Authorities did not return an email asking whether the Inspector General had started an investigation.

Under federal law, it is illegal for any official or employee in the executive branch—with a few minor exceptions—to ask the IRS to audit someone’s taxes or conduct an investigation. If an IRS employee becomes aware of such a request, the employee is required to report it to the Inspector General. Defendants who have broken the law can face up to five years in prison.

At the White House, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dodged whether President Biden, who had decided to keep Mr. Rettig in place as IRS commissioner when he took office, was confident he would run the agency fairly. .

“I’m going to say it’s up in November,” said Mrs. Jean-Pierre.

In 2017, the tax year for which Comey was audited, the IRS says it randomly selected about 5,000 returns for auditing from the 153 million people who filed them. For 2019, the year Mr McCabe was audited, the agency says it has singled out about 8,000 returns of the roughly 154 million filed.

It is not clear how two close associates have been examined under the same audit program in a few years. Mr Comey and Mr McCabe both told The Times that they had questions about how the audits had come about.

Mr Trump said he had no knowledge of the audits. The IRS denies that anything went wrong.

“Federal privacy laws prevent us from discussing specific tax situations,” the IRS said in a statement released Thursday. “Audits are handled by professional officials, and the IRS has strong safeguards in place to protect the exam process — and against politically motivated audits. It is ludicrous and untrue to suggest that senior IRS officials have somehow targeted specific individuals for audits of the National Research Program.

Former IRS officials and tax attorneys said that because Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe were so frequently attacked by Mr. Trump — who pushed for their prosecution and accused them of treason — an inspector general or congressional committee should investigate.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Massachusetts Democrat Representative Richard E. Neal, sent a letter to the Inspector General, J. Russell George, requesting an investigation.

“The American people must have complete confidence in the IRS and the fair application of our tax laws,” said Mr. Neal. “I am deeply concerned about the impact on public confidence due to allegations that the IRS has been used to retaliate against political enemies.”

Mr. Neal asked the Inspector General to investigate whether the checks were truly arbitrary, whether Mr. Trump’s political appointees or staffers played a role in the selection process, and who at the IRS or the Treasury Department can add or remove taxpayers. from the list of those selected for the check.

Texas Republican Kevin Brady, the highest-ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he supported the investigation into all allegations of political targeting against the IRS and then tried to link the issue to criticisms Republicans had directed against the IRS. under Democratic administrations.

“As we have learned from the repeated attacks by conservative groups and the dangerous leaks of private tax returns under the Obama and Biden administrations, the IRS should never be used as a weapon against political opponents,” Brady said.

An old critic of Mr. Rettig, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, who previously served as Mr. Rettig had called for his resignation on unrelated matters, reiterated that demand on Thursday.

“The IRS under Donald Trump’s chosen Commissioner Charles Rettig has been one catastrophe after another,” said Mr. Pascrell, chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight. “The control of two law enforcement officers at the behest of Trump is a titanic scandal.”

Mr Pascrell added: “If Mr Rettig cared the least bit about this office, he would be resigning today. And if he doesn’t go, Mr. Rettig should be dropped off.”

Chris Cameron and Michael D. Shear reporting contributed.

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