Nixon and the IRS

With the Internal Revenue Service currently in the news, it’s worth a quick look back on President Richard Nixon’s relationship with that agency. Here are some of the interesting bits from a Washington Post obituary today of former IRS chief Johnnie Walters:

In a recorded conversation in the Oval Office on May 13, 1971, Richard M. Nixon laid out for his aides the job qualifications for the next commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. “I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he will do what he’s told, that every income tax return I want to see I see, that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends,” the president told H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, according to a transcript published years later in The Washington Post. “Now it’s as simple as that. If he isn’t, he doesn’t get the job.”

The man who got the job was Johnnie Walters, a fellow Republican then serving as assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s tax division.

Mr. Walters said he did not know of the president’s demands when he became commissioner on Aug. 6, 1971. Once in office, by all accounts, he refused to participate in the administration’s attempts to use the tax agency for political purposes—most notably, to intimidate through audits or threatened audits the individuals on the Nixon “enemies list…”

The president bitterly recalled being audited during the Democratic administration of President John F. Kennedy, who had defeated him in the 1960 election. In the run-up to Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign, White House counsel John W. Dean III furnished Mr. Walters with the administration’s “enemies list,” naming hundreds of individuals to be targeted for tax investigations…

“Johnnie has been a disappointment,” Dean said in a Sept. 15, 1972, conversation in the Oval Office. “Well, he’s going to be out,” Nixon replied. “He’s finished.”

In due course, Americans would find out who the real ruthless SOB was, and it wasn’t Walters.