In refuting the claim by Mr. Trump that he had used the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to help Mr. DeSantis when he faced a potential recount in 2018, Mr. Kelly said no such request had been made to the Justice Department or the F.B.I. In fact, Mr. Kelly said, Mr. Trump was growing increasingly disillusioned with Mr. DeSantis at the time. That fall, Mr. DeSantis had distanced himself from Mr. Trump’s public claim that Democrats inflated the death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria.
“He was insufficiently impressed with DeSantis’s loyalty to him,” Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Trump never made any secret of his belief that he could use his government powers to his political ends, frequently saying in public that the Justice Department should investigate his enemies and that the former intelligence officials should not have clearances. Congressional and Justice Department investigations, news media accounts and books about the Trump presidency have also shown that Mr. Trump tried behind closed doors to use the powers of the Justice Department against his enemies.
But far less is known about how he tried to weaponize the I.R.S.
Mr. Trump was familiar with how I.R.S. audits functioned. In the closing year of his presidency, he remained engaged in a decade-long audit battle with the agency over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. (The current status of the audit is not publicly known.)
It is against federal law for executive branch employees — including the president, the vice president or any other White House official — “to request, directly or indirectly” that anyone at the Internal Revenue Service conduct an investigation or audit of any taxpayer.
The Times reported in July that between 2019 and 2021, when the I.R.S. was being led by Mr. Trump’s appointee, Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe were subjected to the same type of rare audit that is so invasive it is known among tax lawyers as “an autopsy without the benefit of death.”
I.R.S. officials have insisted that the men were randomly picked for the audit and that there were no political motivations behind how they were chosen. Out of the 153 million returns filed for the year Mr. Comey was audited, only 5,000 tax returns were targeted for the audit. For the year Mr. McCabe was audited, 154 million people filed returns and 8,000 were selected for the audit.
Mr. Kelly said that Mr. Trump was particularly “obsessed” with Mr. McCabe’s wife, Jill, who had run for Virginia’s state assembly around the time the F.B.I. was investigating Mrs. Clinton’s use of a personal email account. Mr. Trump has repeatedly made the false claim that Ms. McCabe, a Democrat, received money for her campaign directly from the Clintons.