Subscribe

Playing the IRS card: Six presidents who used the IRS to bash political foes

Since the advent of the federal income tax about a century ago, several presidents – or their zealous underlings – have directed the IRS to use its formidable police powers to harass or punish enemies, political rivals, and administration critics. Here are six infamous episodes.

4. President Richard Nixon (R)

  • close
    President Richard Nixon hands a pen to a staff member after signing a bill in 1971. He used tax audits to target antiwar groups, civil rights groups, reporters, and Democratic politicians.
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

President Nixon took the Kennedy-era IRS political strike force and redirected it to target left-wing groups. But Nixon appears to have targeted a wider range of "enemy" groups for tax audits, including antiwar groups (and the churches and other nonprofits that sheltered them), civil rights groups, reporters, and prominent Democrats.

Moreover, as a result of Watergate investigation (1973-4) and, especially, the disclosure of White House tapes, many of these activities became public. The tapes provided a direct line of accountability from the IRS to the Oval Office that was often missing in previous administrations.

Nixon is unambiguous: He directs aides to use the IRS to get back at political enemies. In a taped conversation on Sept. 8, 1971, Nixon tells his chief domestic policy adviser, John Ehrlichman, to direct the IRS to audit potential Democratic rivals, including Sens. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Edmund Muskie of Maine.

"Are we going after their tax returns? I ... you know what I mean? There's a lot of gold in them thar hills," Nixon said.

The House Judiciary Committee noted Nixon's abuse of the IRS in its Articles of Impeachment, charging that Nixon "acting personally and through his subordinates and agents, endeavoured 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 investigations to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner."

4 of 6

 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK