In the final weeks of the historically expensive 2022 midterm, Republican candidates warned voters that Democrats had emboldened the Internal Revenue Service into sending an “army” of agents to harass Americans with unnecessary audits. But a new report from the New York Times states that under President Donald Trump, it probably was the other way around.
According to former White House chief of staff John Kelly, Trump repeatedly said “we ought to investigate” and “get the IRS on” figures such as FBI director James Comey, who conducted the agency’s investigation into the former president’s connections to Russia — until Trump fired him. Kelly claimed in an interview with the Times that he was able to stop Trump from seriously pursuing this specific abuse of power. But after Kelly left, it seems Trump got his wish to annoy the officials trying to hold him accountable.
Earlier this year, the Times reported that Comey and his former deputy Andrew McCabe were the subject of random and highly intrusive audits — inspections that IRS agents refer to as autopsies “without the benefit of death.” The sheer odds that the two main figures who led the FBI’s investigation into Trump would face such an audit indicates that a coincidence is unlikely. In 2017, the year when IRS agents peaked around Comey’s filings, around 5,000 were conducted out of 153 million returns.
Trump and the IRS have denied all wrongdoing, and it’s not easy to use the IRS to harass individual Americans: Watergate prompted a series of reforms designed to increase government transparency and limit the potential for corruption. But considering that IRS commissioner Charles Rettig is a Trump appointee, that Trump repeatedly tried to use the federal government to cudgel political opponents. and that Trump called Comey a “dirty cop” and accused McCabe of treason, there appears to be both a motive for and evidence of offense now that Kelly has come forward.