The Internal Revenue Service reportedly audited the taxes of former FBI directors James Comey and Andrew McCabe under a rarely used program that subjects a very small group of taxpayers to intense scrutiny and is supposed to be randomly selected, with some suggesting the audits may have been politically motivated.
While president, Donald Trump fired both Comey and later his successor, McCabe, after trying to convince them to clear him in the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. The audits were first reported by The New York Times. The audit of Comey’s 2017 taxes under the IRS’s National Research Program began in 2019, after Trump appointed Charles Rettig as IRS commissioner, while the audit of McCabe’s 2019 taxes began in 2021, during the Biden administration. That year, only about 8,000 tax returns were selected for audit under the program.
The audit of Comey and his wife Patrice’s taxes lasted for over a year and cost the couple $5,000 in fees to their accountant, who needed to drive for hours to meet with an IRS agent face to face. Comey had to produce his bank statements and brokerage records, as well as a Christmas card showing his family to prove to the IRS how many dependents he could claim, along with receipts for his MacBook Air, printer and toner cartridges.
“I don’t know 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,” Comey said in a statement to the Times. “Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe somebody misused the IRS to get at a political enemy. Given the role Trump wants to continue to play in our country, we should know the answer to that question.”
After the audit concluded, the Comeys received a $347 tax refund from the IRS.
Both McCabe and Comey were surprised to learn from the Times that both of them had been audited by the IRS.
The McCabe audit found that he and his wife Jill owed a small sum of money to the IRS, and they paid it. “The revenue agent I dealt with was professional and responsive,” McCabe told the Times. “Nevertheless, I have significant questions about how or why I was selected for this.”
The IRS declined to discuss the specific cases, but said it would hand over the matter to the inspector general for review. “Federal privacy laws preclude us from discussing specific taxpayer situations,” said IRS spokesperson Jodie Reynolds in a statement. “Audits are handled by career civil servants, and the IRS has strong safeguards in place to protect the exam process — and against politically motivated audits. It’s ludicrous and untrue to suggest that senior IRS officials somehow targeted specific individuals for National Research Program audits. The IRS has referred the matter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for review. IRS Commissioner Rettig personally reached out to TIGTA after receiving a press inquiry.”
The IRS denied that Rettig had any hand in the audits, according to the Washington Post, which also reported on the Comey and McCabe audits.
“As IRS commissioner, he has never been in contact with the White House — in either administration — on IRS enforcement or individual taxpayer matters,” said the IRS. “He has been committed to running the IRS in an impartial, unbiased manner from top to bottom.”
However, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey, chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, reiterated earlier demands that Rettig be fired, although Rettig’s term as IRS commissioner will end in November.
“If you think the audit of Donald Trump’s purported enemies was a random act of God, then I have a bridge in North Jersey I’d like to sell you,” Pascrell said in a statement Thursday. “There may be no group on the face of this earth that deserves the benefit of the doubt less than Donald Trump and his government enablers. The IRS under Donald Trump’s handpicked commissioner Charles Rettig has been one catastrophe after another. The auditing of two law enforcement leaders at Trump’s behest is a titanic scandal. An investigation by TIGTA is warranted but should not delay what is plain to see. Charles Rettig has wrecked public trust in the IRS and I reiterate my calls for President Biden to fire Mr. Rettig immediately. If Mr. Rettig cared at all about this agency he would hand in his resignation today. And if he doesn’t go Mr. Rettig should be impeached.”
The IRS put in place safeguards after scandals during the Nixon administration that are designed to prevent the agency from investigating political foes. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, also wants TIGTA to investigate the matter.
“The recent news report that not just one, but two of former President Trump’s foes were subject to rare, invasive audits under his IRS is an unlikely coincidence, and reeks of political targeting,” Neal said in a statement. “The American people put their trust in the IRS, and count on it to be beyond reproach. This political targeting by the former administration is a crack in IRS’s fragile credibility that threatens its core mission — full and fair tax administration. As I said to Inspector [J. Russell] George this morning, TIGTA must immediately conduct a comprehensive investigation. The public needs to know the extent of this wrongdoing, and bad actors should be held accountable. ”
The ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady, R-Texas, also called for an investigation, but believes it should take a backseat to investigating the purported leak of confidential information on wealthy taxpayers to news organizations and compared it to earlier investigations of the IRS.
“As we learned from the repeated targeting of conservative groups and the dangerous leaking of private tax returns under the Obama and Biden administrations, the IRS should never be used as a weapon against political opponents,” Brady said in a statement. “Commissioner Rettig has stated unequivocally he has had no communication with President Trump, and the research audits are statistically generated. He has referred this issue to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and I support investigating all allegations of political targeting — consistent with the precedent set by the House Ways and Committee when investigating President Obama’s disgraced former IRS director Lois Lerner, who the committee confirmed had engaged in this abuse. To be clear, any such investigation should not take precedence over informing the public about or concluding its investigation of the largest theft of private taxpayer information in American history.”