For all of the public pontificating that our elected officials do, there are a thousand rapid fire chess moves behind the scenes that shape the way our system of government operates.
We’ve seen plenty of fictionalized accounts of this, from The West Wing to House of Cards, but the hallmark of a truly great political drama is how difficult it can be to tell what’s far-fetched and what is a frequent occurrence.
This week, former FBI Director James Comey appeared to make a rather bold accusation against the Trump White House, and it straddles the line between mania and maybe.
Former FBI director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe were both selected to undergo rare, intensive audits, which take months to complete and cost thousands of dollars in accountant fees, by the IRS under the leadership of Trump appointee Charles Rettig, which “presents extraordinary questions,” reports the New York Times. Basically, the “chances of the two highest-ranking FBI officials—who made some of the most politically consequential law enforcement decisions in a generation—being randomly subjected to a detailed scrub of their tax returns a few years after leaving their posts” are “miniscule.” In 2017, the chance of being selected for the audit was one in 30,600.
Comey was informed in 2019 that his 2017 return was selected. Trump had fired Comey in 2017 and afterward raged about his lack of loyalty and pursuit of the Russia investigation, calling for his prosecution. Unbeknownst to Comey, McCabe was informed in 2021 that his 2019 return would undergo the same audit, though the chance of being selected in that filing year was about one in 19,250, per the Times. McCabe, who became acting FBI director after Comey’s exit and launched an investigation of Trump, was similarly assailed by the former president, who “accused him of treason and raised questions about his finances long after pushing for his dismissal and prosecution,” the Times reports.
Comey himself wasn’t shy about suggesting that something fishy was going on.
“You don’t need to be an anti-Trumper to look at this and think it’s suspicious,” says John Koskinen, IRS commissioner from 2013 to 2017. In the end, Comey and his wife, forced to pay $5,000 in accountant fees, were found to have overpaid $347 to the federal government. “Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe somebody misused the IRS to get at a political enemy,” Comey says, adding the question needs to be answered given “how badly Trump wanted to hurt me” and “the role Trump wants to continue to play in our country.” McCabe and his wife were found to owe a small amount of money. “It just defies logic to think that there wasn’t some other factor involved,” he tells CNN.
The Trump White House has denied these outrageous claims, as well at then-IRS chief Rettig.