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The 'random' IRS audit of Trump's enemies leaves me deeply suspicious

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig has some serious questions to answer.

A report from The New York Times revealed this week that both former FBI director James Comey and former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe found themselves on the receiving end of the rarest and most severe level of audit the Internal Revenue Service can conduct.

Former President Donald Trump fired both men from their positions toward the beginning of his term. And before Trump’s term was over, both were subjected to a process that tax lawyers refer to “only partly jokingly, as ‘an autopsy without the benefit of death,’” according to The New York Times. It’s been said that the only things certain in this world are death and taxes. But the odds that both Comey and McCabe would be subject to the IRS’ scrutiny at “random” as the IRS claims leave me deeply, deeply suspicious.

Comey was notified in 2019 that his 2017 tax returns were selected for the rare audit program. McCabe was advised in 2021 that his 2019 returns would be scrutinized under the same program. Now, the chances of being selected for this audit are miniscule. There were almost 153 million individual returns filed for 2017, and the IRS selected only 5,000 for this most comprehensive of audits — that’s about one return out of every 30,600.

The odds that both Comey and McCabe would be subject to the IRS’ scrutiny at “random” as the IRS claims leave me deeply, deeply suspicious.

Before dismissing this as pure coincidence, let’s consider the following facts: Comey was fired by Trump in 2017 after Comey refused to publicly refute the existence of an FBI investigation into Trump – Russia collusion in the 2016 presidential campaign. “The Department of Justice has authorized me to confirm” the existence of a broader investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, Comey said during public congressional testimony. “We’re not going to say another word about it until we’re done.”

McCabe was terminated in 2019, just 26 hours before hitting retirement and pension eligibility. The reason given was that he lacked candor while being investigated by the Department of Justice for allegedly inappropriate communication to a newspaper. McCabe later sued for wrongful termination and won in a settlement agreement. While the reason for the settlement isn’t public, clearly DOJ found it necessary to undo McCabe’s firing and reinstate his pension – with back pay – because something was amiss with either the opening of the case, how it was conducted, or how he was terminated.

McCabe served as acting FBI director when Comey was fired, and in that role continued to oversee the Trump – Russia campaign investigation. Trump publicly harassed McCabe, and McCabe wrote in his book that during a phone call with the president, he mocked McCabe’s wife who ran for state office as a Democrat in Virginia.

Finally, let us note that IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig was appointed by Trump to head the agency in 2018. He was thus the IRS’s leader when Comey and McCabe fell under the audit program. Rettig remains in that role today.

The IRS has pushed back hard on any assertion that they would target specific individuals under this particular audit program, and called the notion “ludicrous.” Nevertheless, on Thursday, just one day after the audits were revealed, the IRS announced it would refer the matter to the Department of Treasury Inspector General.

Rettig should be walked out of his office — now.

During Trump’s administration, we heard him endlessly rant about a so-called “deep state” of federal employees buried deep within government agencies and intent on using their positions to do him harm. What we really need to know is the extent to which Trump appointees and loyalists who abused their positions may still be in government and still working on behalf of a former president instead of working for the American people.

Rettig should be walked out of his office — now. At a minimum, he should be suspended pending the Inspector General inquiry. If the IG determines anyone at IRS violated the law, there should be a criminal referral and a swift prosecution. Congress too must open an investigation into what transpired with these highly invasive audits and plug any gaps identified in a program that may well have been misused to target Americans.

There is a chance that this really is a random occurrence. After all, weather experts tell us that multiple lightning strikes in one place are more common than we think given certain atmospheric conditions. But a potential abuse of a system that touches every American’s life is a matter that goes beyond Trump and his own penchant for vengeance. Americans need to trust that their government will not turn its full punitive powers against them simply because they incurred the wrath of a president. If not, this will someday happen again – and we’ll all be wondering how we ignored the lightning strikes that set our democracy ablaze.CORRECTION (July 11, 2022, 11:00 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated that the IRS also audited Andrew McCabe's lawyer. The lawyer confirmed that McCabe had been audited; the lawyer was not audited himself.