A chief of staff to former President Donald Trump revealed to The New York Times this week that Trump frequently insinuated that his perceived political adversaries should be subject to IRS tax audits.
John Kelly, who served as White House chief of staff from mid-2017 to the end of 2018, said that Trump repeatedly told him of his desire to have individuals he believed were against him audited, The Times reported on Sunday.
Among those who Trump said “we ought to investigate” and “get the IRS on” were former FBI director James Comey and former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, who replaced Comey after Trump fired him in May of 2017. (Trump would go on to fire McCabe just days before he was set to receive a greater retirement package for his years of work within the federal government.)
Kelly left the White House at the end of 2018. In 2019, the IRS alerted Comey that he would be subject to a rare and intrusive audit that only a few thousand Americans undergo each year. In 2021, McCabe was subjected to the same audit while the agency was still being run by a Trump appointee.
Kelly gave no indication that anyone followed through on Trump’s demands while he was in office. But the timing of both audits has caused many to question whether or not they were genuinely random, especially in light of Kelly’s recent comments.
“If it is true that Donald Trump used the IRS against Comey and McCabe, then Trump broke the law, again. [The Justice Department] should investigate,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted on Sunday night.
Kelly revealed to The Times that he would often have to calm Trump down after the former president threatened to go after those he disliked through use of the federal government’s resources.
“The U.S. government, whether it’s the IRS or the Justice Department, should never be weaponized or used to retaliate, and certainly not because someone criticizes you in the press or is your political opponent,” Kelly told The Times.
Kelly also explained that Trump seemed to expect him to follow through on his demands. “He initially thought I would do it,” Kelly said. “He thought I would be loyal and obedient to him. I told him we were loyal to our oath to the Constitution.”
“If he told you to slit someone’s throat, he thought you would go out and do it,” Kelly added.
The former chief of staff, who had also served as Trump’s head of the Department of Homeland Security, told Trump that fulfilling his requests would be “inappropriate” and “illegal.”
“It’s not a good idea,” Kelly said he told Trump.
“Yeah, but they’re writing bad things about me,” Trump reportedly responded.
A spokesperson for Trump said that Kelly’s characterizations of the former president were “total fiction” and claimed that Kelly was “a psycho” who was going after Trump because Kelly had become “so irrelevant.”
But Kelly’s narrative is consistent with many of Trump’s actions that have already been confirmed. Trump threatened to use his powers as president, for example, to shut down social media sites for fact-checking disinformation. He also threatened legal repercussions against Georgia state elections officials for not agreeing to “find” him enough votes to overturn his 2020 loss to now-President Joe Biden. And he previously threatened to remove federal funding from U.S. cities that are led by Democrats, a move that many said was retaliatory in nature.