Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service: Who Is Charles Rettig?

Friday, February 16, 2018
Charles Rettig

President Donald Trump has chosen a Beverly Hills tax attorney to be the next commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If confirmed by the Senate, Charles “Chuck” Rettig will face the daunting challenge of implementing the new $1.5 trillion tax law passed by Republicans last year, despite Republican-led measures that since 2010 have cut the IRS budget by $900 million (17%) and reduced its staff by 21,000 (23%). Rettig will also be responsible for overseeing the ongoing audit of Trump’s tax returns by the IRS’s Global High Wealth Industry Group. Rettig once called scrutiny by the “Wealth Squad,” “the audits from hell that your grandfather warned you about.”


Rettig’s nomination breaks a 20-year precedent of IRS leaders having backgrounds in business or management, but not tax. Rettig would succeed John Koskinen, whose term from December 2013 to November 2017 was marred by false allegations that the agency had singled out conservative-leaning political groups for scrutiny. 


Born November 18, 1956, in Burbank, California, Charles Paul (Chuck) Rettig earned a B.A. in Economics at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1978, a J.D. at Pepperdine University Law School in 1981, and an LL.M. in Taxation at New York University Law School in 1982. 


Soon after graduating with his second law degree, Rettig joined the law firm now known as Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez, which specializes in tax law. A certified specialist in tax, estate planning, and trust and probate law, Rettig has spent his entire 35-year career there. He focuses on settling tax controversy cases between tax collectors and his wealthy clients, which have included Michael Jackson, Don Ho, “Girls Gone Wild” creator Joseph Francis and many corporations. He has represented clients before the IRS, the Justice Department Tax Division, and various other tax authorities.


Rettig has also been a pioneer in representing scores of wealthy taxpayers seeking to disclose their unreported offshore bank accounts to the IRS in exchange for reduced penalties for what is often years of fraudulent tax avoidance. In 2014 and again in 2017, Rettig sued the IRS on behalf of clients seeking to reduce their tax penalty payments.


In 2002, Rettig gave a hint of his strategy if he leads the IRS when he told The Los Angeles Times, “The purpose of the IRS criminal division is deterrence. The IRS prosecutes a few cases, they get some publicity, and everybody else falls in line.”


Rettig switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat after Barack Obama was elected president and then back to Republican after Trump became president.


Although Rettig has made campaign contributions to both political parties, he has given more to Democrats ($17,550) than to the GOP ($2,375). Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) has been Rettig’s primary beneficiary, getting $10,500, with the Hawaii Democratic Party also receiving $2,100. Rettig’s son, physical therapist Dr. Charles P. Rettig, Jr., resides in Hawaii. Rettig also donated $2,600 in 2013 to former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) and $500 in 2016 to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California). During the 2012 presidential cycle, Rettig donated $500 each to President Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney.


Although Rettig donated only $375 to Donald Trump in 2016, and nothing to Hillary Clinton, he contributed in a more substantial way by writing an article for Forbes defending Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns during an audit. However, he also speculated that Trump “likely pays taxes at a lesser rate than many of us” and that he “may be worth far less than the approximately $10 billion he wants us to believe,” a point known to be an especially sore one for Trump.


Over the years Rettig has served on numerous government boards and commissions. He served as chair of the IRS Advisory Council from 2008 to 2010; as a member of the Advisory Board for the California Franchise Tax Board since 1998; and as a member of the Advisory Council of the California State Board of Equalization from 2011 to 2013. He also chaired the 4,000+ member taxation section of the California Bar Association from 1999 to 2000. He has delivered many lectures and published many articles on tax topics.


Rettig is married to Betsy Carol Rettig, with whom he has several adult children, including Charles P. Rettig, Jr., Christina Rettig, and Joan E. (Rettig) Hassler.

-Matt Bewig

To Learn More:

The Beverly Hills Attorney Set to Lead the IRS Likes Magic Tricks — He'll Need a Few to Run the Agency (by James Rufus Koren, Los Angeles Times)

To Lead I.R.S., Trump Nominates Lawyer Who Battled It (by Jim Tankersley, New York Times)

Law Firm Profile (Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez)

Trump’s Pick to Head IRS Is an Expert at Tax Avoidance: It’s Like Making El Chapo Head of the DEA (by David Cay Johnston, DCReport)

Trump Picks Tax Lawyer to Head IRS (by Toby Eckert and Aaron Lorenzo, Politico)

Rettig CV (American Bar Association)


Randy 5 years ago
The IRS is in need of serious help. Every credit card company in the U.S. has better software and or knowledgeable employees. I called the IRS in April to get a payoff and was given an amount which was a little over $500 in which I paid. A month and a half later I get a bill for almost $300 in which they say is interest. My statements show interest is accrued monthly. How do you get $300 of interest on a paid off account? They said to write to your appeal dept. to have them review it. Five months later still have not heard from them. I would think the Government should be able to at least operate as good and efficient as a credit card company and that is not that high of an expectation.Thank you.
Paul Husband 6 years ago
Chuck Rettig is a fair-minded and kind man with a big heart. He is also a outstanding technical tax lawyer. His work as the Chair of the UCLA Tax Controversy Institute has been stellar. Every year at the UCLA Tax Controversy Institute, his speeches about the valuable contributions of the U.S. military (including two of his children) have been memorable. IRS employees are lauded annually at the UCLA Tax Controversy Institute. He harmonizes the IRS community with the private bar. He has also been a most worthwhile faculty member of ABA Tax Controversy programs. As members of the professional tax community, we will be very fortunate when he is confirmed as the new Commissioner.

Leave a comment