underscore Nixon's legacy
as a bitter, paranoid,
utterly corrupt leader.
Wanted: "A ruthless son-of-a-bitch" at IRS
The date was May 13, 1971. In the Oval Office, the increasingly embattled president spoke of his plans to appoint a new Internal Revenue Service director -- someone who would be willing to engage in political warfare against Nixon's foes. "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," Nixon explained to White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and domestic adviser John Erlichman. "Now it's as simple as that. If he isn't, then he doesn't get the job."
Many administrations have sought to use the IRS against their political opponents, but rarely are such direct and damning statements revealed to the public. One of the motives behind the IRS plot was revenge -- Nixon's finances were audited in the early 1960s, and he was certain that powerful Democrats, namely John and Robert Kennedy, were behind the IRS probe. Nixon demanded to know "when the Christ are they [the IRS] going to go after some Democrats?" Haldeman remarked that "it isn't a matter of doing anything against the law, it's a matter of using the law to its full -- to our benefit rather than someone else's." Nixon responded: "That's it. We want a lawyer in there who will tell us how to do things and not that we can't do things."
To Nixon's chagrin, the man he selected for the IRS job, Johnnie M. Walters, disobeyed orders to target the president's critics with tax investigations. White House counsel John Dean presented the infamous Nixon "enemies list" to Walters and instructed him to audit the hundreds of people named on it, but instead Walters tucked the list away for a year and then provided it to congressional investigators.
Next: More Break-ins Plotted