The I.R.S. said on Thursday that it had asked the inspector general who oversees tax matters to investigate how James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe — both perceived enemies of former President Donald J. Trump — came to be faced with rare, exhaustive audits that the agency says are supposed to be random.
“The I.R.S. has referred the matter to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration for review,” the agency said in a written statement, adding that its commissioner, Charles P. Rettig had “personally reached out” to the inspector general after learning about the audits.
The disclosure from the I.R.S. came a day after The New York Times reported that Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe had been the subjects of audits that target just several thousand Americans a year and are highly invasive.
In 2017, the tax year Mr. Comey was audited for, the I.R.S. says it randomly selected about 5,000 returns for the audit out of the 153 million people who filed them. For 2019, the year Mr. McCabe was audited for, the agency says its picked about 8,000 returns of the roughly 154 million that were filed.
It is not clear how two close associates both came to be scrutinized under the same audit program in a matter of a few years. Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe both told The Times that they had questions about how the audits had come about.
Mr. Trump said he had no knowledge of the audits. The I.R.S. has denied that any wrongdoing occurred.
“Federal privacy laws preclude us from discussing specific taxpayer situations,” the I.R.S. said in a statement released Thursday. “Audits are handled by career civil servants, and the I.R.S. has strong safeguards in place to protect the exam process — and against politically motivated audits. It’s ludicrous and untrue to suggest that senior I.R.S. officials somehow targeted specific individuals for National Research Program audits.”
Former I.R.S. officials and tax lawyers said that because Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe were attacked so frequently by Mr. Trump — who pushed for their prosecutions and accused them of treason — an inspector general or congressional committee should investigate the matter.