An IRS watchdog report has debunked claims in the liberal media that former President Donald Trump ordered audits of the tax returns of former FBI chiefs James Comey and Andrew McCabe because they were critical of him and his administration.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) found that the IRS randomly selected Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe for audits of their tax returns from 2017 and 2019, along with thousands of others, as part of an IRS system known as the National Research Program.
The New York Times reported last July that Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe were subjected to “intensive” audits of their returns and that the scrutiny was likely no coincidence.
“The minuscule chances of the two highest-ranking F.B.I. officials — who made some of the most politically consequential law enforcement decisions in a generation — being randomly subjected to a detailed scrub of their tax returns a few years after leaving their posts presents extraordinary questions,” Times correspondent Michael Schmidt wrote at the time.
According to the inspector general’s report, Mr. Comey‘s 2017 tax return and Mr. McCabe‘s 2019 tax return were selected under the National Research Program during the tenure of IRS Commissioner Charles P. Rettig, a Trump appointee whose term ended last month.
The watchdog found no proof of wrongdoing by Mr. Trump or any Trump-appointed officials.
“Although we did not identify misconduct during our review, TIGTA is taking additional steps to assess the process used to select the seed numbers [in the audit program],” the report said.
The Times’ report, and other coverage by MSNBC and CNN, encouraged a narrative that Mr. Trump sought political payback on the former FBI chiefs for opening an investigation into his presidential campaign in 2016.
Mr. Trump would fire Mr. Comey in May 2017, and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Mr. McCabe in March 2018, just before his scheduled retirement from the bureau.
Mr. Rettig, whose term began eight months after the IRS began selecting returns for the 2017 audit, told investigators “that he had no conversations with the current or prior presidential administration relative to” the audit selection program.
“Commissioner further stated that he was not involved in any of the sample selections or in directly or indirectly influencing who would be selected,” the report said.
Mr. Comey has had no comment. Mr. McCabe could not be reached.
In another article last month, The New York Times quoted former Trump White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as saying Mr. Trump had wanted several of his perceived political enemies to be investigated by the IRS. The article claimed that “Mr. Trump’s demands were part of a broader pattern of him trying to use the Justice Department and his authority as president against people who had been critical of him, including seeking to revoke the security clearances of former top intelligence officials.”
Mr. Kelly said in addition to Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe, Mr. Trump wanted the IRS and the Justice Department to investigate former CIA Director John Brennan, Hillary Clinton, Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, and former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.
Mr. Trump said he knew nothing about the IRS audits.
The inspector general’s report found that the IRS audit selections are random, but taxpayers are divided into 88 groups to ensure that higher-income taxpayers have a greater chance of getting audited. In 2017, the year in which Mr. Comey was audited, taxpayers in the group likeliest to get audited had a 1 in 138 chance of being selected.
In 2019, the year for which Mr. McCabe was audited, taxpayers in the group likeliest to be audited had a 1 in 202 chance, the report said.
The inspector general “confirmed that the processes and computer programs worked as designed, which reduces the ability to select specific taxpayers for an NRP audit,” the report said.
The IRS hired an outside contractor last July to review its process. The contractor reached the same conclusion as the inspector general.