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Former IRS chief recalls defying Nixon who sought to use the IRS agency as a weapon to investigate his enemies

Former IRS chief recalls defying Nixon who sought to use the IRS agency as a weapon to investigate his enemies

 

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

 

  • Johnnie Mac Walters was head of IRS in early 1970s during Watergate scandal
  • White House wanted IRS to investigate its enemies
  • Walters says IRS never audited anybody because of ‘enemies list’

 

GREENVILLE, S.C. — At his home near Furman University, Johnnie Mac Walters remembers being pressured more than 40 years ago to do what he considered unthinkable.

Amid the books about government and photos of former presidents, the aftermath of the Watergate break-in remains a vivid memory.

In the early 1970s, when embattled President Richard Nixon sought to use the Internal Revenue Service as a weapon to investigate his enemies, the administration turned to Walters, a Hartsville, S.C., native and head of the tax agency, to do the dirty work.

Walters, now 93, said he refused.

The IRS controversy currently dogging President Barack Obama has raised new allegations that the agency has been engaged in political meddling and bias. Obama has denounced as “outrageous” the targeting of conservative political groups by the IRS.

Walters walks with a cane now and is soft-spoken. But the recent IRS developments prompted him to sit down for an interview and resume his personal quest, not for vindication, but to validate his rejection of Nixon’s tactics while he was commissioner of Internal Revenue.

“He’s a white hat in the story. He’s not a black hat,” Tim Naftali, former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, said of Walters.

Nixon sought to use the enemies list to target his opponents and he wanted to use the IRS to achieve that goal, Naftali said.

“The story is interesting because the IRS wouldn’t do it,” he said. “It didn’t happen, not because the White House didn’t want it to happen, but because people like Johnnie Walters said ‘no.'”

Walters said he was stunned in 1972 when White House counsel John Dean gave him an envelope containing an “enemies list” of about 200 prominent Democrats.

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