Nixon’s IRS

One of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon included his alleged misuse of the IRS. Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment was carefully framed to charge that Nixon “endeavored to obtain from the Internal Revenue Service, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, confidential information contained in income tax returns for purposes not authorized by law, and to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner.”

Nixon’s alleged abuse of the IRS seems to have gone largely unrequited. Note the careful use of the word “endeavored.” It appears to be the operative term.

Turning to Stanley Kutler’s history of Watergate, I find that Kutler devotes remarkably few pages to the issue. Nixon’s efforts with the IRS seem pathetically futile. Robert Haldeman is said to have selected a number of people on various enemies’ lists “for audits and other forms of harassment.”

But who was audited? Kutler mention only Washington Post attorney Edward Bennett Williams, who was audited for three years running. An IRS office (the Special Services Staff), created in 1969 at the urging of Tom Huston, is said to have “compiled information on more than 1,000 institutions and 4,000 individuals.” Kutler makes no mention of anything having been done with the information.

Kutler observes that the White House worked hard on IRS Commissioner Johnnie Walters to make him subservient to political needs. Nixon henchman Jack Caulfield astutely complained, however, that the IRS was a “monstrous bureaucracy…dominated and controlled by Democrats.” Kutler doesn’t say it, but the Nixon administration’s efforts with Walters appear to have gone approximately nowhere.

Nixon himself had been the subject of what he believed to have been politically inspired audits in 1961 and 1962. He told John Ehrlichman in 1972 that he had not pursued his opponents with audits because he had “no mandate.” Things would be different in the second term, Nixon promised.

The index for “IRS” in Kutler’s book reveals concisely how it turned out in Nixon’s second term. “Search for politically pliable Commissioner,” reads the subhead. “Not successful,” reads the sub-subhead. Compared with Obama’s accomplishments in this department, it’s almost funny.

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