IRS whistleblower claims political appointee tried to interfere in audit of Trump or Pence: report

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal says the whistleblower's complaint raises "serious and urgent concerns"

Published October 4, 2019 4:29PM (EDT)

Donald Trump, Richard Neal, Steve Mnuchin and Mike Pence (AP Photo/Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump, Richard Neal, Steve Mnuchin and Mike Pence (AP Photo/Getty Images/Salon)

An Internal Revenue Service official alleged in a whistleblower complaint that he was informed that at least one Treasury Department political appointee had attempted to interfere with the annual audit of President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence's tax returns, the Washington Post reported, citing multiple people familiar with the document.

The whistleblower, who is a career IRS official, told the newspaper that he had filed a formal complaint and sent it to House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley and the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration on July 29. However, the whistleblower refused to discuss the specifics of the complaint to the newspaper.

Neal, D-Mass., said in court filings this summer that the whistleblower's complaint contains credible evidence of "potential 'inappropriate efforts to influence' the mandatory audit program." He also said the complaint raises "serious and urgent concerns" that political appointees may have tried to interfere with the government audit process, which was set up to be walled off from such pressure. He did not reveal whether the complaint was about Trump or Pence.

James Jackson, a deputy inspector general at the Treasury Department, told the Post, "We can't confirm or deny that we may or may not be doing anything. I can tell you, though, that anytime we get any kind of allegation in this world, in this realm, we investigate it aggressively."

The whistleblower dismissed criticisms that his allegations of political interference were uncorroborated.

"That's what investigations are for," he told The Post.

He also denied that his actions were motivated by politics.

"Anyone who knows me knows I would not hesitate to do the same, as would most career IRS public servants, regardless of any political preference," he told the newspaper. "I take very seriously the duty of career civil servants to act with integrity and perform our duties impartially, even at the risk that someone will make a charge of bias."

The White House dismissed the whistleblower's complaint, claiming it is unsubstantial, because it is based on conversations with other government officials, The Post reported. Two administration officials reportedly described the complaint as "hearsay" and suggested it was politically motivated.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats who have viewed the complaint have expressed concerned about its contents, particularly because the IRS' audit process has been historically apolitical, according to The Post. They are reportedly discussing whether to make the complaint public.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have been on a hunt for Trump's tax returns since he bucked decades of tradition when he refused to release them during the 2016 election cycle.

Though not required by law, every major party presidential nominee since the 1970s has chosen to publicly release his or her tax returns except for Gerald Ford, who only released a summary. Financial disclosures can help paint a fuller picture of a candidate's business positions and interests by providing information about financial dealings, such as investments, donations, business relationships, assets and possible conflicts of interests.

Since clinching the presidency, Trump has argued that he cannot disclose his returns, because he is being audited by the IRS — even though an audit does not prevent a taxpayer from releasing his or her own tax documents. Though he has vowed to fight "all the subpoenas" lodged by Democrats seeking his financial records, House Democrats have ramped up their efforts to obtain his tax returns in recent months.

Neal is suing the Treasury Department and the IRS to obtain six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns. He has argued that he needs access to Trump's taxes to make ensure that the presidential tax audit program, conducted by the IRS, is working properly and to make legislative changes if necessary. The Treasury Department and Republicans in Congress have argued that the request represents a political stunt.

News of the complaint comes on the heels of a separate, explosive whistleblower complaint filed in August by a member of the intelligence community. That complaint detailed Trump's efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate. It centers on a July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, and has prompted the House of Representatives to launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

In recent days, Trump has demanded to know the whistleblower's identity, as well as the identity of those who provided information to the whistleblower. He has attempted to discredit the whistleblower's allegations and referred to the individual as a "spy."

The IRS whistleblower criticized Trump and other officials' assaults on the intelligence whistleblower and those made by other public officials. Those comments, he said, were making federal employees fearful of reporting wrongdoing.

"I have some legitimate concerns about reckless statements being made about whistleblowers," he said, adding that such comments "attack the messenger when the focus should be on the facts that were presented."

“I am concerned also by the relative silence of people who should be repudiating these dangerous attacks in the strongest terms,” he continued.

By Shira Tarlo

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