A narrative peddled by The New York Times earlier this year suggesting former President Trump sought vengeance on his political foes through the IRS was debunked by the Biden administration.
Back in July, the Times fueled a news cycle with a report highlighting how former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, both of whom had key roles in the Russia investigation that plagued much of the Trump presidency, faced what the paper described as “the most invasive type of random audit” from the tax-collecting agency.
According to the report, Comey’s 2017 tax return and McCabe’s 2019 tax return were being scrutinized under the National Research Program, which fell in the purview of IRS commission Charles P. Rettig, a Trump appointee whose term carried into the Biden presidency and ended last month.
The Times’ reporting prompted Rettig’s IRS to ask the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to review the audits that Comey and McCabe were swept up in.
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The inspector general’s report released Thursday concluded that their audits were, in fact, random and that “Although we did not identify misconduct during our review, TIGTA is taking additional steps to assess the process used to select the seed numbers.”
However, the Times’ coverage of the IRS audits heavily pushed the notion that Comey and McCabe’s involvement in IRS audits was no accident.
“The minuscule chances of the two highest-ranking F.B.I. 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 presents extraordinary questions,” Times correspondent Michael Schmidt wrote in his July 6 report.
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Schmidt asked at the time, “Was it sheer coincidence that two close associates would randomly come under the scrutiny of the same audit program within two years of each other? Did something in their returns increase the chances of their being selected? Could the audits have been connected to criminal investigations pursued by the Trump Justice Department against both men, neither of whom was ever charged? Or did someone in the federal government or at the I.R.S. — an agency that at times, like under the Nixon administration, was used for political purposes but says it has imposed a range of internal controls intended to thwart anyone from improperly using its powers — corrupt the process?”
The Times then quoted former IRS commissioner John A. Koskinen, who similarly cast doubt on the legitimacy of the audits, telling the Times, “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.”
The next day, the Times published an analysis piece asking, “How Unlikely Is It That the Audits of Comey and McCabe Were a Coincidence,” concluding, “The chances are minuscule. But minuscule is not zero.”
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Schmidt went even further during an appearance on MSNBC, putting his thumb on the scale ahead of the IG probe.
“Because of Donald Trump’s continued harping on these two individuals, it’s hard on the face of it to simply accept that this is random,” Schmidt told “All In” host Chris Hayes this summer.
Following the IG report debunking the narrative, Schmidt continued casting doubt with the headline “Report Suggests Tax Audits of Trump Foes Were Random, but Leaves Questions.”
After acknowledging that Comey and McCabe were randomly selected for the audit, Schmidt wrote Thursday, “But the 19-page report said there appeared to be some deviations from the I.R.S.’s rigorous rules for random selection when the agency winnowed down the initial pools to make the final selections of the returns that would be audited. That created a risk, the report said, that someone could have had the chance to have a return from the larger pool chosen for the smaller group that would be audited.”
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Schmidt later admitted, “The report said that I.R.S. officials involved in the selection of taxpayers said that neither the commissioner of the agency at the time, Charles P. Rettig, nor any other senior I.R.S. officials told them to pick specific people for the audits. The review also found no malicious code that could be used to manipulate the computer program that generates random returns for audit, the report said.”
Fox News Digital asked The New York Times whether it will amend its previous reporting from July with an editor’s note acknowledge the IG report’s findings and whether Schmidt went too far with his commentary suggesting Comey and McCabe were targeted. The Times did not immediately respond.