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A Real Smoking Gun on Politicizing the IRS

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The New York Times on Wednesday published definitive proof that the White House used Internal Revenue Service audits to punish its political enemies -- in 1971. 

An obituary of Randolph Thrower, who was commissioner of internal revenue under President Nixon from April 1, 1969 to June 22, 1971, notes that he helped draft the 1969 Tax Reform Act and pushed to revoke the tax-exempt status of private schools that excluded African Americans.

But Thrower was fired in 1971 after he requested an appointment with the president to warn him that White House staffers were pressuring the IRS to audit the tax returns of anti-Vietnam war leaders, civil rights activists, journalists and Democratic members of Congress. Not only did Thrower not get his top-level meeting, he soon got a call from Nixon domestic affairs adviser John Ehrlichman giving him the ax. 

The public was told Thrower resigned “for personal reasons.” But as the celebrated memos and secret tapes of Nixon’s conversations would later show, the president wrote on Jan. 21, 1971, “May I simply reiterate for the record that I wish Randolph Thrower, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, removed at the earliest feasible opportunity.” And during the subsequent search for a successor, Nixon said, “I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, … that he will do what he is told, that every income tax return I want to see, I see” and “that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends.”

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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