Senate confirms new IRS chief counsel

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The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm California attorney Michael J. Desmond as chief counsel for the Internal Revenue Service.

Desmond will be filling a role that is one of two politically appointed positions at the IRS, the other being IRS commissioner. The current IRS commissioner, Chuck Rettig, was also previously a California tax attorney and has known Desmond for decades. He sent out an email Wednesday to the IRS staff about Desmond’s confirmation.

“Mike’s nomination received broad support from former IRS Chief Counsels,” said Rettig. “He is an exceptional individual, an outstanding technical tax lawyer and a great trial lawyer. We are extremely proud to have Mike join the overall IRS team, and Mike is extremely proud to come onboard. He is a fabulous choice to lead one of the largest legal teams in the country. There was strong bipartisan support for Mike’s confirmation, and we are excited that he will take the oath of office in coming days.”

Desmond was confirmed by a vote of 83 to 15. He will be succeeding acting chief counsel William Paul, who has been filling in on an interim basis since January 2017 following the departure of the last Senate-confirmed IRS chief counsel, William Wilkins (see IRS names acting chief counsel following William Wilkins’ departure).

Rettig said he has known Desmond for more than 20 years. “He’s smart, fair and a man of integrity,” he wrote. “I know many of our Chief Counsel attorneys and others in the IRS who have worked with Mike through the years share the same feelings that I do. In his new role as Chief Counsel and Assistant General Counsel at Treasury, Mike brings a wealth of experience inside and outside the government.”

Desmond has run his own law practice for the past six years, Rettig pointed out, and previously was a partner in a law firm, Bingham McCutchen. In addition, he has clerked for Judge Ronald S. W. Lew of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and served as a trial attorney in the Tax Division at the Department of Justice from 1995 to 2000. He later served as tax legislative counsel at the Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Policy from 2005 to 2008.

“I know Mike is personally committed to the importance of the Chief Counsel role,” said Rettig. “After his nomination was originally approved by the Finance Committee last August, Mike and his wife Kristen packed up in California and moved to Washington. They have patiently waited for today’s vote for him to rejoin public service.”

Desmond was nominated in March 2018 and the confirmation hearing was held last July. Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, complained about the long delay in Desmond’s confirmation. “It’s regrettable but unsurprising that Senate Democrats felt the need to obstruct this nomination just for the sake of obstructing,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “Once again, Democratic leaders forced an unnecessary procedural vote on an uncontroversial nominee just to stall and waste Senate floor time. This nominee should have been confirmed last year without fanfare. This is only the latest example of the unprecedented obstacles President Trump’s nominees have faced. Reforms are needed to get the Senate working again.”

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Tax laws Charles "Chuck" Rettig Chuck Grassley IRS