Trump may have committed “serious federal crime” with “targeted” IRS audits of Comey, McCabe: expert

Comey and McCabe suspiciously both faced audits targeting just 1 in 30,000 people each year

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published July 7, 2022 9:26AM (EDT)

James Comey (Getty/Carsten Koall)
James Comey (Getty/Carsten Koall)

Former FBI Director James Comey and his top deputy Andy McCabe faced rare, intensive IRS audits after investigating former President Donald Trump, according to The New York Times.

Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017 while he oversaw the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, and McCabe, who was similarly terminated after investigating Trump over the Coney firing, were selected for a "random" audit known as an "autopsy without the benefit of death," according to the report. Out of about 153 million individual tax returns filed in 2017, only about 5,000 people are selected for this type of invasive audit each year.

Comey and McCabe, along with their spouses, defied the odds, being selected for the audit after being fired. The two men were selected for an IRS research program that uses "compliance research examinations" to try to catch tax cheats. Unlike typical audits, these audits force individuals to produce bank records, copies of checks, receipts and letters effectively recreating their finances for the year in question. The process takes months and often costs thousands in accountant fees.

"Your federal income tax return for the year shown above was selected at random for a compliance research examination," the IRS said in letters to both men. "We must examine randomly selected tax returns to better understand tax compliance and improve fairness of the tax system. We'll give you the opportunity to explain any errors we may find during the examination."

The "minuscule chances" of the top two FBI officials being selected at random raised questions about whether Trump appointees in the government or at the IRS purposely targeted them, noted Times reported Michael Schmidt.

"Lightning strikes, and that's unusual, and that's what it's like being picked for one of these audits," former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the outlet. "The question is: Does lightning then strike again in the same area? Does it happen? Some people may see that in their lives, but most will not — so you don't need to be an anti-Trumper to look at this and think it's suspicious."

A Trump spokeswoman denied any knowledge of the audits.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, a Trump appointee who remains on the job, declined an interview with the Times but said in a statement that he was not involved in any audit.

"Commissioner Rettig is not involved in individual audits or taxpayer cases; those are handled by career civil servants," the statement said. "As I.R.S. commissioner, he has never been in contact with the White House — in either administration — on I.R.S. enforcement or individual taxpayer matters. He has been committed to running the I.R.S. in an impartial, unbiased manner from top to bottom."

The IRS did not specifically comment on the cases but says it forwards any allegations of wrongdoing it receives to the Treasury Department for "further review."

It is illegal under federal law for nearly anyone in the executive branch to request an IRS audit of a specific individual's taxes.

Comey's audit, which lasted over a year, actually found that he and his wife overpaid their federal income taxes and they received a $347 refund, according to the Times.

"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 told the Times. "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."

McCabe said his audit found that he and his wife owed a small amount of money, which they paid.

"The revenue agent I dealt with was professional and responsive," McCabe told the outlet. "Nevertheless, I have significant questions about how or why I was selected for this."

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Months before McCabe's audit, Trump publicly questioned McCabe's finances, repeating a false claim about donations that his wife received when she ran for a Virginia state Senate seat.

"Was Andy McCabe ever forced to pay back the $700,000 illegally given to him and his wife, for his wife's political campaign, by Crooked Hillary Clinton while Hillary was under FBI investigation, and McCabe was the head of the FBI??? Just askin'?" Trump tweeted in September 2020.

McCabe was fired by Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018, which cost him his pension shortly before he was set to retire. The Justice Department in October 2021, under new Attorney General Merrick Garland, reinstated his pension and cleansed his personnel record. He was informed his audit was completed last month.

McCabe claimed he was directly targeted for the audit.

"There was no penalties, there was no fines or anything like that, it was really pretty minimal thing in the end. But it's nerve-wracking, you know, it's really, it's really, kind of, you know – it's scary, really, to be … targeted like that," he told CNN. "I don't know what happened here. And like I said, I think they handled the business okay, you know, the person I dealt with was fine, but the question remains, how was I selected for this?"

McCabe called for an investigation into the audits.

"It just defies logic to think that there wasn't some other factor involved," he said.

"No coincidence, for sure. Odds are 30,000 to 1," tweeted Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, warning that "this kind of political targeting is a serious federal crime."

Read more

Trump's war on Comey and McCabe

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Andrew Mccabe Charles Rettig Donald Trump James Comey Politics