In the midst of a busy, newsy week full of shootings, assassinations and resignations, The New York Times’s redoubtable Michael S. Schmidt had a remarkable page one piece on Thursday, July 7, about one of the great “coincidences” of the Trump Era: how two of his perceived enemies suddenly found themselves being audited by the IRS.
James B. Comey, the FBI director Donald Trump fired in 2017, and Comey’s Deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, whom Trump fired later, were subsequently selected for the most invasive type of random audit carried out by the IRS, an audit referred to as “an autopsy without benefit of death.” Neither incurred much tax liability as a result; Comey even got a modest refund.
A coincidence? A one-in-30,000 happenstance? Hardly, even though the taxmen insisted that politics and presidential vengeance had nothing to do with the audits. Of course, their boss, the 45th President, Donald J. Trump, had railed privately and publicly about both men accusing them of treason and calling for their prosecution.
Schmidt’s thoroughly-documented piece brought back the memory of another “coincidence” decades ago in the Vietnam War era when I was the New York Times’ Saigon Bureau Chief and later Diplomatic Correspondent covering Richard Nixon’s foreign policy from Washington. I wrote several pieces criticizing the conduct of the war and Nixon’s diplomatic strategy, articles that annoyed the President repeatedly. He rails against them, and me, in the famous Watergate Tapes.
Then — surprise —I was audited by the IRS three years running. Then, as now, no political motive or presidential recrimination was ever publicly suggested. I didn’t even make the famous Nixon “enemies list” as far as I know. Instead, the government poured over my reporter’s salary and modest income looking for…who knows what? The undeniable fact was the three consecutive audits followed my articles that annoyed the President.
Sheer coincidence? All in the interest in protecting the U.S. treasury from fraud, no matter how minor? That’s a stretch. Every bit as coincidental as the audits of Comey and McCabe, I’d say.
Footnote: The three years of audits concluded with me having to pay a few hundred dollars in additional tax because the IRS determined that the considerable moving costs paid by The Times to ship me and my family to the Middle East and Far East and home had to be considered income to me. The Times legal department objected to that conclusion, but lost.