Trump, Nixon Comparisons Flow After Reports of Comey, McCabe IRS Audits

Former President Donald Trump has been compared to former President Richard Nixon after a report surfaced showing that top FBI officials were targeted for a rare form of tax audit after falling out of favor with the former president.

During Trump's time in office, former FBI Director James Comey and the agency's former acting director Andrew McCabe were each picked for an exceedingly rare form of "random" audit, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The IRS denied that Comey and McCabe had been deliberately targeted, saying in a statement to the Times that Charles Rettig, the agency's commissioner appointed by Trump in 2018, had "never been in contact with the White House" and was "committed to running the I.R.S. in an impartial, unbiased manner from top to bottom."

Both former FBI leaders expressed doubts that the audits were truly random, while a former IRS commissioner told the paper that the audits were "suspicious." Trump had publicly denounced and accused both Comey and McCabe of "treason" before they were "randomly" selected, while the odds of being picked for the invasive audit by mere chance were reportedly one in more than 30,000.

"Lightning strikes, and that's unusual, and that's what it's like being picked for one of these audits," former IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the Times. "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."

Donald Trump and Richard Nixon
Former President Donald Trump was compared to former President Richard Nixon following a report that the IRS may have targeted two top FBI officials with a rare form of "random" audit after Trump spoke out against them during his time in the White House. In this combination image, Donald Trump (Left) comes out of the Oval Office for his departure from the White House on September 16, 2019 in Washington, DC and President Richard Nixon (Right), in a nationally televised address 8/15, asks for support against "those who would exploit Watergate in order to keep us from doing what we were elected to do." He also proclaimed his innocence of any complicity in the affair. Getty

Multiple commentators responded to the Times article by pointing out that Nixon's White House had supplied then-IRS Commissioner Johnnie Mac Walters with an "enemies list" while unsuccessfully attempting to convince him to target Nixon's enemies with tax audits during the time of the Watergate scandal. Others suggested that the audits of Comey and McCabe were evidence that Trump may have succeeded in using the IRS as a weapon.

"Trying to use the IRS to go after political enemies might end up being another instance of Trump succeeding where Nixon failed," tweeted Robert Maguire, the research director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"Shades of Nixon using the IRS to punish people on his Enemies List," University of Maine political science professor Amy Fried tweeted.

"Would we be shocked to learn that Donald Trump politicized and weaponized the IRS to go after his political enemies?" tweeted news editor and podcaster Scott Shafer. "No, we would not."

"This kind of IRS abuse was in the impeachment allegations against Nixon," tweeted journalist Chris Bury. "It's clear we still have much to learn about the Trump White House."

"Abuse of the IRS was a centerpiece of the second of the three articles of impeachment the House Judiciary Committee recommended against Nixon," tweeted Richard Tofel, the former president of ProPublica.

Comey and McCabe both suggested that an investigation into whether Trump had any role in their audits may be warranted in comments to The New York Times.

"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," Comey told the paper. "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."

"The revenue agent I dealt with was professional and responsive," said McCabe. "Nevertheless, I have significant questions about how or why I was selected for this."

Newsweek reached out to Trump's office for comment.