While in office, President Donald J. Trump repeatedly told John F. Kelly, his second White House chief of staff, that he wanted a number of his perceived political enemies to be investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Kelly, who was chief of staff from July 2017 through the end of 2018, said in response to questions from The New York Times that Mr. Trump’s demands were part of a broader pattern of him trying to use the Justice Department and his authority as president against people who had been critical of him, including seeking to revoke the security clearances of former top intelligence officials.
Mr. Kelly said that among those Mr. Trump said “we ought to investigate” and “get the I.R.S. on” were the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe. His account of Mr. Trump’s desires to use the I.R.S. against his foes comes after the revelation by The Times this summer that Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe had both been selected for a rare and highly intrusive audit by the tax agency in the years after Mr. Kelly left the White House.
Mr. Trump has said he knows nothing about the audits. The I.R.S. has asked its inspector general to investigate, and officials have insisted the two men were selected randomly for the audits.
Mr. Kelly said he made clear to Mr. Trump that there were serious legal and ethical issues with what he wanted. He said that despite the president’s expressed desires to have Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe investigated by the I.R.S., he believes that he led Mr. Trump during his tenure as chief of staff to forgo trying to have such investigations conducted.
After Mr. Kelly left the administration, Mr. Comey was informed in 2019 that his 2017 returns were being audited, and Mr. McCabe learned in 2021 that his 2019 returns were being audited. At the time both audits occurred, the I.R.S. was led by a Trump political appointee.
Mr. Trump regularly made his demands in response to news reports in which he thought his perceived enemies made him look bad. The president would carry on about having them investigated to the point that Mr. Kelly thought he needed to tell the president that what he wanted was highly problematic, explaining, in sometimes heated conversations, that what Mr. Trump wanted was not just potentially illegal and immoral but also could blow back on him.