IRS nominee says he’s never had a client under audit for a decade

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Charles Rettig, a tax lawyer who is Donald Trump’s pick to lead the IRS, told lawmakers Thursday he’d never represented a client who has been under a continuous agency audit for a decade, as is the case with the president, and that he doesn’t know any details of the review.

“I cannot recall a 10-year examination,’’ Rettig said at a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday.

Trump’s tax attorneys have said the president cannot publicly release his tax returns because those from 2009 onward are still under audit. If confirmed as Internal Revenue Service commissioner, Rettig, 61, would effectively oversee the audit.

Trump has bucked tradition followed by U.S. presidents and major presidential candidates going back decades by refusing to release any of his tax returns. No law prevents Trump from releasing his tax returns, regardless of whether they’re subject to an IRS audit.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the panel’s top Democrat, said he found Trump’s insistence that he can’t release his returns to be an unbelievable excuse and that Rettig needs to show autonomy from the Trump White House.

‘Independence Matters’

“Committing to independence matters,” Wyden said. “This administration often seems to be making tax decisions for political reasons rather than policy reasons.’’

Rettig, who practices criminal tax law in Beverly Hills, California, told lawmakers he would ensure that the agency is “impartial and non-biased from top to bottom’’ and follows the law.

The Senate, where Republicans have a 51-49 majority, is likely to confirm Rettig. He would serve as head of the agency until the term runs out in November 2022, replacing acting commissioner David Kautter. Rettig would take over the agency as it implements the largest overhaul of the tax code in more than 30 years.

IRS commissioners of the past two decades were picked for their experience at high-level posts at private companies and regulatory agencies. Rettig would go from running a law firm with 12 attorneys to a perennially despised and underfunded bureaucracy with nearly 77,000 employees.

Trump-Branded Resort

Rettig faced criticism from Democrats for omitting mention on a disclosure form that he has a stake in two rental properties in Hawaii at a Trump-branded resort. The Trump International Hotel and Tower Waikiki Beach Walk isn’t owned or sold by the Trump Organization or its affiliates, according to the resort’s website.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said there isn’t a conflict.

“Maybe one wants to argue that Mr. Rettig purchased these properties in 2006, during season five of ‘The Apprentice,’ on the off chance that Mr. Trump would become president and nominate him to be IRS Commissioner,’’ Hatch said at the hearing.

Republicans have sought to restrict the IRS’s power and budget in recent years after allegations that agency officials prevented conservative groups from getting tax-exempt status.

The agency has been reeling from budget cuts. The current budget of $11.43 billion is less than in fiscal 2008, and the IRS pared about 15 percent of its workforce over the past five years. The enforcement staff has plunged by more than 25 percent since 2010.

Bloomberg News