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Tax committee chair seeks investigation into IRS leaders' knowledge of Comey, McCabe audits

Charles Rettig sworn in Oct 1 2018 as IRS commissioner by Treas Sec Steven Mnuchin_Twitter
Charles Rettig was sworn in on Oct. 1, 2018, as IRS commissioner by then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He's now facing questions about audits of two former top FBI officials.

The Internal Revenue Service has asked the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to look into what appear to be unusually timed audits of two former top FBI agents.

Now the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee wants TIGTA to also look into the possible involvement of the IRS commissioner in the reportedly random, but intensive, National Research Program (NRP) audits of former FBI director James B. Comey and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe.

Rep. Richard Neal, the Massachusetts Democrat who heads the House tax-writing panel, wants the inspector to determine what IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig and former IRS chief counsel Michael Desmond knew about the audits and when they knew it.

Both of the IRS officials were appointed by Donald J. Trump, who became, shall we say, disenchanted with both Comey and McCabe. Trump had both fired.

Historical context of the IRS query: In asking for investigation, and in particular the possible involvement of top IRS officials, Neal cited a previous Republican president who expressly said he wanted to use the tax agency for his and his party's purposes.

Neal writes in his letter to Inspector General J. Russell George:

Quote iconIn a recorded conversation in the Oval Office on May 13, 1971, Richard M. Nixon laid out for his aides the job qualifications for the next commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. "I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a [b----], that he will do what he’s told, that every income tax return I want to see I see, that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends," the president told H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, according to a transcript published years later in The Washington Post.

That May date and its connection to the IRS earns this weekend's By the Numbers figure.

Politics and the IRS: Neal justified his inquiry by telling George that "it is unconscionable that someone within the IRS may have acted" on the Comey and McCabe audits "out of loyalty to the Trump administration or fear of retaliation for failing to act."

"The American people need to have full faith in the IRS and the fair administration of our tax laws," added Neal. "I am very concerned about the impact on public confidence resulting from allegations that the IRS has been used to exact revenge on political enemies."

The IRS has faced questions before about politically motivated acts. The most recent was the scandal about its handling of tax-exempt status applications from conservative, notably Tea Party affiliated, organizations.

As a preface to Nixon's enemies list that Neal cited, President John F. Kennedy in the 1960s mobilized the IRS against fundamentalist Christian ministers who had been critical of his Catholicism.

The most notorious of IRS questionable activity, however, is how tax laws were used to intimidate civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In addition, Alabama officials conducted two tax investigations into the "I have a dream" icon's finances.

Other questions from Neal: In addition to the questions about any knowledge of the audits by Rettig and Desmond, the Ways and Means chairman also wants George to answer the following questions.

  • How were the former FBI directors selected for the exceedingly rare NRP audits? Was it truly random?
  • Which employees within the IRS or the Department of the Treasury can add taxpayers to the NRP or remove taxpayers from the NRP once selected?
  • Did staff members of the IRS commissioner's or former chief counsel's offices know of the selection of the former FBI directors for the NRP? If they did, when did they know, and what action did they take?

Neal did not set a deadline for the TIGTA report.

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