Democrats and Republicans in Congress on Thursday expressed alarm that the IRS under President Donald Trump may have targeted two of his political enemies with tax audits, joining in rare unity to call for an investigation into the matter.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement a “thorough investigation of this matter is crucial” — adding his panel would “look at what steps” it can take on its own.
“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,” Wyden said.
Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the tax-focused House Ways and Means Committee, separately said in a statement he would support “investigating all allegations of political targeting.” But Brady pointed to assurances from IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, who said he had no communications with Trump, and the GOP congressman also mounted a political broadside against the agency for allegedly targeting conservatives under former president Barack Obama.
The bipartisan political blowback nonetheless reflected the seriousness of the allegations and the long-simmering distrust of the IRS on Capitol Hill. For some, the news even invoked the specter of the disgraced Nixon administration, when the president leveraged the IRS — and its vast powers to look into Americans’ finances — to pursue his political enemies before he was forced to resign.
An investigation into the matter would be carried out by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, which typically opens probes at lawmakers’ request. Wyden said that Rettig told him in a conversation that “any allegations of wrongdoing are taken seriously and are referred to the [inspector general] for further review.” A senior government official familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss it, said Rettig had referred the issue to TIGTA. A spokesperson for TIGTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The IRS, meanwhile, stressed in a statement that Rettig personally “is not involved in individual audits or taxpayer cases,” which instead are handled by “career civil servants.”
“As IRS Commissioner, he has never been in contact with the White House — in either administration — on IRS enforcement or individual taxpayer matters,” the agency said. “He has been committed to running the IRS in an impartial, unbiased manner from top to bottom.”
For years, Trump has repeatedly and publicly attacked Comey and McCabe, 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 was charged with any crime.
The types of IRS audits they experienced 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 about 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.
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.”
Lisa Rein and Jeff Stein contributed to this report.