Trump has become as well-known for his psychological projection as he has for his innumerable potential crimes. Trump confessed his own failings by projecting them onto others so often it became a tell.
So while it might not shock anyone that he is this close to being brought down by fraud accusations referred to by the feds and the IRS, it is a moment of sweet poetic justice for those targeted under his IRS.
James found evidence of federal bank fraud by the Trumps and has turned the evidence over federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and the IRS. pic.twitter.com/Fb5SPyCzKD
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) September 21, 2022
Trump appeared to use the IRS as another weapon to be utilized against his critics in an attempt to silence them. Under Trump, both James Comey and Andrew McCabe were targeted for the “autopsy without death” “random” IRS audit.
It looked so bad that the IRS chief appointed by Trump had to refer the Comey and McCabe audit decision to the inspector general for review after media inquiries followed the New York Times reporting.
This website was also targeted for an invasive audit under Trump, not once but twice. The first audit went on for years, they found nothing but kept fishing and asking for random documents from years ago. When it finally closed, mere weeks later a new audit for the same returns was opened by a different IRS office. (The second audit was eventually closed after objections that they wanted to review documents they had already reviewed.) We asked several times what prompted the audit, and were told various answers from ‘it was random,’ to they wanted to ‘get a sense of how a digital media company worked’ to ‘spending at the 2016 DNC media tent.’ (They were citing the 2016 Democratic National Convention stood out as a rather obvious sign that spite might be in play.)
The fact that this oh-so-rare random audit was initiated when there was no red flag that prompted it and then it was followed immediately by a new audit of the same returns takes the “random” part of random audit to a new level of hard-to-believe.
“Among tax lawyers, the most invasive type of random audit carried out by the I.R.S. is known, only partly jokingly, as ‘an autopsy without the benefit of death,'” the New York Times reported.
“The odds of being selected for that audit in any given year are tiny — out of nearly 153 million individual returns filed for 2017, for example, the I.R.S. targeted about 5,000, or roughly one out of 30,600.”
I’m not a tax specialist, and I have no idea if the audit we were subjected to twice was the same kind of audit as Comey and McCabe, but I do know the first audit lasted for years, disrupted our business, cost a lot of money for a small business, and took significant resources from us at a time when we were already struggling due to other issues created by the former president.
One of the goals of an authoritarian is to use the levers of power at their disposal to put media out of business that does not fall into line. Signs that a country that is autocratizing can be first found in media coverage and the self-censoring of media and critics, due to backlash.
A fascist must own their own media, U.S. conservatives learned at CPAC courtesy of no-longer democratic Hungary. This must happen in order for an authoritarian to maintain power, because the people must be fooled into seeing the leader as strong and competent and they must believe he is the Big Daddy who has the power to bring about a great economy, good jobs, and good times for his people. The frothy gauze needed to sell an autocrat cannot withstand a thriving, independent, free press.
While there is no proof that Trump ordered any of these audits, the atmosphere that he created was one in which underlings knew he wanted critics punished and often took it upon themselves to do so, even when it violated norms, ethics, and laws.
Trump is responsible for his lawless approach to governing, for surrounding himself with criminals and people/family who treated the White House as just another source of power for further operations that appear and operate a lot like organized crime. The message Trump sent by his choices, his own actions, the people around him, his own behavior and words was clear: Get the critics, punish the opponents, and threaten the witnesses.
It is a fact that Trump did his best to de-legitimize any political news, commentary, analysis and personalities that didn’t service his propaganda agenda. His administration targeted White House correspondents in a manner meant to wrongly brand them as unreliable narrators and he himself publicly battled larger media outlets in what was a perhaps lucrative financial play for both.
The weak man who couldn’t handle the scrutiny of his office as president routinely projected his own failings onto others so much that it became a running joke, whatever he accused others of he was doing times ten. “Crooked Hillary” just gets us warmed up — Trump attacked Mitt Romney for failing to release his tax returns and attacked Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information. Projection projection projection, what a story you do tell.
And so here we are on this inevitable IRS story. Trump assumed that everyone else crimed like he did. He was wrong.
So while many of us targeted by the IRS under Trump and his IRS officials, Trump is the one in real jeopardy because he is the one who routinely changed valuations based on how it benefited him and he will have to answer to the fed and the IRS for this. What Trump did was deliberate and systemic according to the 200-plus page document filed by AG Letitia James. It’s a little easier to believe this because not only did Michael Cohen tell us this years ago, but anyone with any knowledge of how a certain kind of branding operative works would know to suspect that the documents wouldn’t match up.
It would be poetic justice were Trump to go down over an audit of the tax returns he hid for years by falsely blaming an ongoing audit for why he refused to do so.
Schadenfreude, how you do tease a nation.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.