The head of the IRS has asked the Treasury Department's inspector general to review how former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were both subjected to a rare and rigorous IRS audit.
The audits of the pair — both of whom were the subject of repeated criticism by former President Donald Trump — began during the Trump administration. Comey was told his 2017 return was the subject of a "random" audit, while McCabe was told the same about his 2019 return, according to letters from the IRS both men provided to The New York Times.
"The IRS has referred the matter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for review," the agency said in a statement Thursday, adding that IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig "personally reached out to TIGTA after receiving a press inquiry" on the subject.
The Times reported that the odds of both being randomly selected for the audits were tiny — there were only 5,000 such audits in 2017 and 8,000 in 2019 out of the over 150 million returns filed annually.
In its statement, the IRS said privacy laws "preclude us from discussing specific taxpayer situations," but insisted that safeguards are in place to prevent people from being individually targeted.
"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. It’s ludicrous and untrue to suggest that senior IRS officials somehow targeted specific individuals for National Research Program audits," spokesperson Jodie Reynolds said.
Comey was informed of his audit in 2019, while McCabe learned of his in 2021, according to the Times.
McCabe took the reins as acting director of the FBI in 2017 in the turbulent days after Trump abruptly fired Comey. McCabe was fired the next year. Comey’s removal led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the government’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Trump has relentlessly attacked both men over the Russia probe, and publicly called for both to be prosecuted.
“Your federal income tax return for the year shown above was selected at random for a compliance research examination,” the IRS letters to both men and their spouses said, according to copies of the letters published by the Times. “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.”
Typically, returns filed within the last three years can be included in an audit, the IRS website states.
Comey did not immediately return an NBC News request for comment, but he addressed the audit in a statement 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,” he said. “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.”
Rettig, a Trump appointee, has led the IRS since 2018.
The audit reportedly found that Comey and his wife had overpaid in 2017. They subsequently received a $347 refund, according to the Times.
McCabe didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News, but told the Times that the results of his audit showed that he and his wife owed a small sum that the couple paid.
“The revenue agent I dealt with was professional and responsive,” McCabe said. “Nevertheless, I have significant questions about how or why I was selected for this.”
For all returns filed for tax years 2011 through 2019, the IRS examined 0.55 percent of individual returns filed, the agency said in its data book published in September.
Trump's spokespeople did not return an NBC News request for comment. The Times said a Trump spokeswoman said the former president had "no knowledge" of the audits.
Comey was fired in 2017 while his agency was looking into whether people involved with Trump’s presidential campaign had undisclosed ties to Russia. McCabe was terminated months later, days before becoming eligible for full pension benefits.
Trump had frequently derided the two officials, blasting them and others for their investigation into election meddling and obstruction of justice in the 2016 presidential election. Trump accused both Comey and McCabe of treason and claimed the FBI and Justice Department officials had launched the Russia probe to hurt him politically.
An internal Justice Department watchdog report later found that the Russia investigation stemmed from evidence that Moscow was using cutouts to reach out to the Trump campaign as part of its efforts to influence the election.