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IRS chief refers Comey, McCabe audit decision to inspector general for review

By Kara Scannell, CNN

The head of the Internal Revenue Service has asked a watchdog to investigate the decision to conduct rare tax audits of former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the agency announced Thursday.

“The IRS has referred the matter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for review. IRS Commissioner (Charles) Rettig personally reached out to TIGTA after receiving a press inquiry,” the IRS said in a statement.

The agency is under scrutiny following a report from The New York Times on Wednesday that the IRS conducted intensive tax audits of McCabe and Comey, both fierce critics of former President Donald Trump, during his administration.

McCabe told CNN on Thursday that he thinks “referring it to the IG is the right step, but let’s see if the IG moves on it and then makes their findings public.”

CNN has reached out to Comey for comment on the referral.

Individuals are supposed to be selected by random for the audits. The Times noted that the odds of any one person being selected for an audit by National Research Program in 2017 are about one in 30,600, raising questions about how two of Trump’s most visible critics were both selected.

McCabe, a CNN law enforcement analyst, had called for an investigation, telling CNN’s Laura Coates on “Don Lemon Tonight” that “people need to be able to trust the institutions of government and so that’s why there should be some — we should dig through this and find out what happened.”

The IRS on Thursday also reiterated its previous statement denying any “politically motivated audits” in a statement to CNN.

“Federal Privacy laws preclude us from discussing specific taxpayer situations. 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,” the agency said.

“It’s ludicrous and untrue to suggest that senior IRS officials somehow targeted specific individuals for National Research Program audits,” it added.

Rettig, a Trump appointee, has led the IRS since 2018. The agency said in a statement to the Times he has no role in selecting candidates for audits, and the newspaper noted that how taxpayers are selected for the intensive audits is not known outside the IRS.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not say on Thursday whether President Joe Biden maintains confidence in Rettig.

“We don’t comment on enforcement actions taken by the IRS. … As you know, the IRS commissioner, his term is up in November. But I don’t have any updates on that,” Jean-Pierre said when asked about Biden’s position.

“He is going to be up in November so I will leave it there,” she repeated.

Reaction from lawmakers has been swift, with the referral earning bipartisan support.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said in a statement that “Donald Trump has no respect for the rule of law, so if he tried to subject his political enemies to additional IRS scrutiny that would surprise no one.”

“We need to understand what happened here because it raises serious concerns,” he said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said that he spoke with the inspector general on Thursday and that he urged his office to “immediately conduct a comprehensive investigation. The public needs to know the extent of this wrongdoing, and bad actors should be held accountable.”

The referral also drew praise from the top Republican on the committee, Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, who said in a statement: “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.”

CNN has reached out to representatives for Trump for comment. The former President, through a spokesman, said in a statement to the Times: “I have no knowledge of this.”

This story has been updated with additional details Thursday.

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CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Shawna Mizelle, Devan Cole and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.

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