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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

New IRS chief draws a special glare in light of Trump's tax history

Charles Rettig listens during a Senate Finance Committee

Charles Rettig listens during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on his nomination for Internal Revenue Service commissioner on June 28 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: AP / Jacquelyn Martin

Running the Internal Revenue Service under President Donald Trump could prove quite a ride for the man who started in the job last week — and for the citizens the agency is assigned to serve.

Charles Rettig of Los Angeles was sworn in by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as IRS commissioner just a day before strong public evidence was published of how decades ago, real estate heir Trump, his siblings, and father Fred Trump dodged tax laws bigly.

More recent interactions are hidden because Trump is the first president in a generation to refuse to voluntarily release his tax forms. 

Rettig, 61, comes to the high public position from a Beverly Hills law partnership known as a "controversy" firm that represents clients in battles with the IRS.

He listed as specialties taxation law, estate planning, and trust and probate law. He's also been on advisory boards that advise his new agency.

At first glance, he wouldn't seem like your most aggressive of collectors. Then again, regulatory zealotry is less than fashionable in Washington, in case you didn't notice.

A New York Times story on Trump's taxes prompted experts to note that while legal time limitations bar any criminal charges resulting from potential fraud, civil proceedings remain possible. 

Still, Steve Rosenthal, a tax lawyer and senior fellow with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told USA Today: "Practically speaking, I would not expect the IRS to be pursuing this one.”

Not that Democrats wouldn't press for it. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has asked Rettig for a full inquiry.

New York authorities say they are examining the Trumps' various actions to avoid paying what may amount to hundreds of millions of dollars in various taxes. But the fight raises questions as to how efficient and serious the IRS has been over the long term in detecting and pursuing chiselers.

Even if Rettig doesn't plan on vexing the president with another investigation, he has spoken of other dilemmas.

“I know the service has many challenges; I’ve seen them firsthand through the years and I know those are sources of frustration for taxpayers and for you as IRS employees,” Rettig emailed his staff.

“I also know we must continue rebuilding trust with taxpayers while implementing the once-in-a-generation tax reform bill passed by Congress in December.”

The sprawling tax changes enacted last December, taking full effect next year, offer complications for filers and officials. 

For example, the IRS and Tax Department are issuing advisories meant to squelch so-called workarounds created in large Democratic-run states to counteract controversial new curbs on state and local deductions.

Then there's the budget. 

Last year's IRS annual report states: "The effect of staffing cutbacks is evident, with fewer [criminal] investigations, recommended prosecutions, filings of information and indictments, and prison sentences than in 2015 and 2016."

“Resource issues make it impossible to be involved in every investigation in which we are asked to participate,” Don Fort, chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, says in the report.

“We have the same number of special agents — around 2,200 — as we did 50 years ago.”

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