WASHINGTON — The odds of matching six numbers in the Texas Powerball lottery are 1 in 25 million. That’s three times better than the odds that two former FBI directors deemed traitors by then-President Donald Trump, James Comey and Andrew McCabe, were picked at random for an unusually intensive IRS audit known as a “compliance research examination.”
The coincidence is so great that the IRS commissioner appointed by Trump in 2018 asked the department’s inspector general Thursday to investigate, after the audits were uncovered by The New York Times.
Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House committee that oversees the IRS, agreed the audits have the marking of retaliation — though he blunted the criticism by accusing Democrats of weaponizing the IRS too.
“As we learned from the repeated targeting of conservative groups and the dangerous leaking of private tax returns under the Obama and Biden Administrations, the IRS should never be used as a weapon against political opponents,” said Brady, the senior GOP member of Ways and Means who, as chairman, pursued allegations of IRS abuse under Democratic President Barack Obama. “I support investigating all allegations of political targeting.”
The current Ways and Means chairman, a Democrat, said the audits demand a swift and comprehensive investigation.
News that “not just one, but two of former President Trump’s foes were subject to rare, invasive audits under his IRS is an unlikely coincidence, and reeks of political targeting,” said Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass. “The public needs to know the extent of this wrongdoing, and bad actors should be held accountable.”
Trump fired Comey as FBI director in May 2017 after he refused to promise loyalty or pull the plug on an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
McCabe, his deputy, took over as acting FBI director. He was fired the following March.
Trump accused both of treason and other misdeeds, and demanded their prosecution. Both have been outspoken critics since leaving the FBI.
Neither was aware the other had been subjected to a compliance review until contacted by The Times, the paper reported.
There were 5,000 such audits in 2017, out of 153 million individual tax returns that year, including Comey. There were 8,000 such audits in 2019, including McCabe.
That puts the odds for Comey at 1 in 30,600.
But that’s just for one taxpayer in one year. If all taxpayers were selected at random, the odds are 1 in 82 million that McCabe and Comey were both picked.
“IRS Commissioner (Charles) Rettig personally reached out” to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration asking for an investigation, the IRS said in a statement Thursday.
The IRS told The Times that Rettig runs the agency “in an impartial, unbiased manner” and had no contact with the White House, under Trump or President Joe Biden, on “enforcement or individual taxpayer matters.”
He “is not involved in individual audits or taxpayer cases; those are handled by career civil servants,” the IRS said.
Brady said that Rettig “stated unequivocally he has had no communication with President Trump, and the research audits are statistically generated” — though technically, the statement came from the agency, not the commissioner.
“He has referred this issue to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and I support investigating all allegations of political targeting — consistent with the precedent set by the House Ways and Committee when investigating President Obama’s disgraced former IRS Director Lois Lerner, who the committee confirmed had engaged in this abuse,” Brady said.
Lerner faced complaints of unfair scrutiny of tea party groups when she ran the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt groups. She later acknowledged improper handling of applications in 2013, was put on leave and eventually retired.
In 2015, when Obama was president, the Justice Department declined to prosecute her. Shortly after Trump took office in 2017, Brady, who then chaired Ways and Means during a period of Republican control in the House, urged Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to reconsider.
Brady was livid when Sessions rejected the request to prosecute Lerner in September 2017.