Sounds … familiar: IRS whistleblower claims potential interference in Trump or Pence audit


Stop us if you’ve heard this before. A whistleblower with second- or third-hand information alleges wrongdoing within the Trump administration. It gets leaked with allegations that the administration tried to quash it, only to find out that the House committee had the relevant information for months.

Get ready for Whistleblower II: Audit Boogaloo:

An Internal Revenue Service official has filed a whistleblower complaint reporting that he was told at least one Treasury Department political appointee attempted to improperly interfere with the annual audit of the president or vice president’s tax returns, according to multiple people familiar with the document.

Trump administration officials dismissed the whistleblower’s complaint as flimsy because it is based on conversations with other government officials. But congressional Democrats were alarmed by the complaint, now circulating on Capitol Hill, and flagged it to a federal judge. They are also discussing whether to make it public.

By golly, with a nip here and a tuck there, this would sound just like Ukraine-Gate, right? It even comes complete with suggestions of a cover-up, as well as an almost instant debunking of it later in the report. The administration didn’t dismiss it in terms of attempting to put an end to it, but simply by saying it wasn’t credible. Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal already had it, and he’s already used it in court:

Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee who received the whistleblower’s complaint in July, said in court filings this summer that the complaint contains credible evidence of “potential ‘inappropriate efforts to influence’ the audit program.” Neal has also said the complaint raises “serious and urgent concerns.” …

Two administration officials have described the complaint as hearsay and suggested it was politically motivated, but they spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Democrats who have reviewed it regard it as a deeply significant allegation that, if true, suggests that political appointees may have tried to interfere with the government audit process, which was set up to be insulated from political pressures.

If it’s secondhand, it’s only “deeply significant” if one can corroborate it. Otherwise, it’s gossip, albeit pitch-perfect gossip for Democrats in the same way the Ukraine-Gate whistleblower report was — in fact, in precisely the same way and manner. If Neal and other House Democrats could have corroborated that in the past three months, we’d be having open hearings on it by now.

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Also, it seems curious that Pence’s name got attached to this. Has anyone ever suggested that Pence was the subject of an IRS audit before now? There was a “mandatory audit that the Internal Revenue Service does on the vice president,” the Wall Street Journal noted in 2017, but no hint that the IRS was doing any other kind of investigation into Pence’s taxes. Unlike Trump, Pence released his tax returns to the public, too. That’s a strange kind of ambiguity on the person targeted by the audit and helped by the alleged interference. It’s almost as if this leak was designed to snare Pence by innuendo into the Democrats’ crosshairs. I wonder why someone would want to do that.

Now that this has leaked, expect it to get plenty of attention. Hopefully media outlets will choose more wisely than the Washington Post did for expert commentary on proper IRS procedures and investigations. Guess who the Post called? It’s not Lois Lerner, but it’s close:

“Nobody at the Treasury Department should be calling to find out the status of anybody’s audit,” said John Koskinen, who served as IRS commissioner under both Trump and President Barack Obama. “For a Treasury official to call a career person — even just for information — seems to me highly inappropriate, even if it’s just checking in on how it’s going.”

Er … there seems to be a little left out of Koskinen’s bio, including the fact that he stonewalled Congress over his lack of action in the Lerner scandal. He told Congress at one point that the records detailing the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS’ tax-exempt squad had been destroyed, only to have them turn up later. That nearly got Koskinen impeached, and probably should have. At other times, Koskinen nearly got found in contempt for stonewalling the courts as well. The last expert on anyone’s list of experts on proper and ethical IRS operations is Lerner’s, but Koskinen would be in the slot right above her.

It’s tough to take any report that uses Koskinen as an ethics coach seriously, but that’s not the real measure of the issue either. This could still be serious if someone in Trump’s circle was stupid enough to peek over the shoulders of the IRS about his audit. That seems unlikely but not impossible; given the months that have gone by, however, it also seems as though Democrats already came up empty on this one.

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