Two high-ranking FBI officials who became the personal enemies of Donald Trump when he was president were later targeted by the IRS for rare audits of their tax filings that experts say raise questions about whether the move was political.
James Comey and Andrew McCabe, former FBI director and deputy director, respectively, were audited by the IRS after leaving the agency following the Trump-Russia investigation which infuriated then-President Donald Trump and led to his claims that the “deep state” was working to overthrow him. The New York Times first reported their audits on Wednesday, noting that the two did not know about the coincidence themselves until a Times reporter informed them.
The odds of being selected for such detailed audits are slim to begin with; just a few thousand Americans are subject to them each year. The likelihood that two top former FBI officials who were both personal foes of the president being selected is slimmer still.
The IRS commissioner who has been in office since 2018, Charles Rettig, denied that he had any personal involvement in the audit process or that he had ever been working with Donald Trump when the latter was president.
“Commissioner Rettig is not involved in individual audits or taxpayer cases; those are handled by career civil servants,” the statement said. “As I.R.S. commissioner, he has never been in contact with the White House — in either administration — on I.R.S. enforcement or individual taxpayer matters. He has been committed to running the I.R.S. in an impartial, unbiased manner from top to bottom.”
But experts including a former commissioner of the agency agreed that the timing of the audits is suspicious.
“Lightning strikes, and that’s unusual, and that’s what it’s like being picked for one of these audits. The question is: Does lightning then strike again in the same area? Does it happen? Some people may see that in their lives, but most will not — so you don’t need to be an anti-Trumper to look at this and think it’s suspicious,” said former commissioner John Koskinen in a statement to the Times.
Former President Donald Trump also denied knowledge of the audits in a statement from his spokesperson to the Times. The president-in-exile spends much of his days at his Mar-a-Lago resort while continuing to hold the occaisional campaign-style rally around the nation as he hints at the possibility that he will run again.
Both former officials told the Times on the record that they had concerns about the situation given the long odds that both of them would be selected at random. Mr McCabe told the newspaper that he had “significant questions” about why he was selected, given the news, while Mr Comey stated: “I don’t know whether anything improper happened, but after learning how unusual this audit was and how badly Trump wanted to hurt me during that time, it made sense to try to figure it out.”
“Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe somebody misused the I.R.S. to get at a political enemy. Given the role Trump wants to continue to play in our country, we should know the answer to that question,” added the former FBI director.
Mr Trump remains under investigation in Georgia as a result of his attempts to pressure officials there to overturn his defeat to Joe Biden; he also potentially could still face federal charges over the attack on Congress as the January 6 committee lays out its case to the American people and the Justice Department.