This Is What Integrity Looks Like

Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone like Johnnie Walters were in charge of the Internal Revenue Service these past several years?

Johnnie M. Walters, a commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service under President Richard M. Nixon who left office after refusing to prosecute people on Nixon’s notorious “enemies list,” died on Tuesday at his home in Greenville, S.C. He was 94.

His son Hilton confirmed the death.

Nixon had fired his first I.R.S. commissioner, Randolph W. Thrower, for resisting White House pressure to punish political opponents. Mr. Thrower, who served from 1969 to 1971, died at 100 in March.

Mr. Walters represented the Middle American values Nixon trumpeted. As a sharecropper’s son, he followed a mule with a plow as a boy and went on to be an assistant scoutmaster, lead a Rotary Club and preach as a layman in a Baptist church. Before coming to Washington, his only political activity was as treasurer of the Republican Party in Greenville.

At the time of Mr. Thrower’s firing, Mr. Walters was assistant attorney general for tax policy. Attorney General John Mitchell recommended him for the I.R.S. job, and he had strong backing from Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, a friend. The New York Times suggested in a profile that he was appointed partly because “he would not be overly independent in exercising his powerful office.”

His stated goals were simplifying the tax process and catching tax cheats. His agency’s job had grown more complex when it was given the added responsibility of enforcing the wage-price guidelines Nixon imposed to stem inflation.

Mr. Walters had not been told of Nixon’s other job requirements, as revealed in a White House conversation recorded on May 13, 1971. “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,” the president said.

Mr. Walters failed to follow this script — which was unknown to him — when John W. Dean III, the White House counsel, summoned him to his office on Sept. 11, 1972. Mr. Dean handed him the “enemies list” of 200 people, most prominent Democrats, whom he wanted investigated.

“I was shocked,” Mr. Walters said in a 1997 interview with The Washington Post. “John, do you realize what you’re doing?” he remembered saying. “If I did what you asked, it’d make Watergate look like a Sunday school picnic.”

Compare and contrast this kind of exemplary behavior with what we have recently seen from the leadership at the IRS.

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