The IRS conducted audits in recent years of two of former president Donald Trump’s most frequent targets of criticism, former FBI director James B. Comey and his deputy, leading Comey to question whether the audits were motivated by political payback against the law enforcement leaders who investigated Trump and his campaign.
Trump fired Comey in 2017, intensifying an investigation into Trump associates that had begun a year earlier. After Comey’s firing, his deputy, Andrew McCabe, took over the FBI for several months, during which time the bureau opened an investigation into Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
For years, Trump has repeatedly and publicly attacked the two men, calling for them to be charged with crimes and accusing them of pursuing a politically motivated witch hunt against him. While both men were investigated and at times criticized for their conduct, neither has been charged with any crime.
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These types of IRS audits are designed to be rare and random. The likelihood that two people so loathed by the former president would get audited within the space of a few years raised concerns for Comey of possible political misuse of the IRS’s authority.
“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. “Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe somebody misused the I.R.S. 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.”
A lawyer for McCabe confirmed he, too, was audited.
The New York Times, which first reported the audits, said Comey’s audit began in 2019, focused on his 2017 tax return, the year he signed a seven-figure book deal. McCabe’s audit began in 2021, focused on his tax return for 2019, the Times said.
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The McCabe audit was launched months into the Biden administration, but the agency is still run by a Trump-appointed commissioner, Charles Rettig.
Since politically motivated abuses of the Nixon administration, the IRS has prided itself on systems designed to keep politics or personal motivations out of the agency’s tax review process.
Asked for comment on the Comey and McCabe audits, the IRS said in a statement that privacy laws prevent them from discussing specific taxpayers.
“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 statement said. “It’s ludicrous and untrue to suggest that senior IRS officials somehow targeted specific individuals for National Research Program audits.”
The IRS statement also suggested the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration might review the matter.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.
Lisa Rein contributed to this report.