I first met Johnnie Mac Walters in 2002 when I contacted him soliciting the papers of the man who had stood up to President Richard Nixon.
Mr. Walters was a life-long public servant who had risen to head the IRS under Nixon and famously refused the President’s desire to punish his enemies through the offices of the IRS. Our friend and donor Greg Shorey had recommended Mr. Walters to our attention.
As we relate in the finding aid to Mr. Walters’ papers, in 1971, embattled President Richard M. Nixon sought to use the Internal Revenue Service as a weapon to investigate and punish his “enemies.” Tapes of White House conversations reveal Nixon wanted as Commissioner “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, that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends.” Attorney General John Mitchell recommended one of his assistants, a specialist in tax law, Johnnie McKeiver Walters for the key post.
Walters was confirmed as Commissioner of Internal Revenue in August of 1971 and served until 1973. Apparently, neither Nixon nor Mitchell ever spoke with Walters to ensure he would aid them as they desired. In fact, Walters was “shocked” when Nixon aide John Dean presented him with an “enemies list,” and he refused to politicize the IRS as Nixon wanted.
When presidential domestic adviser John D. Ehrlichman confronted Walters about his “foot-dragging tactics” in regard to ordered audits, Walters told Secretary of the Treasury George P. Schultz that he could “…have my job anytime he wanted it.” In an administration largely remembered for its abuse of power, Walters stands apart for his steadfast performance under pressure. . . .
Beyond his role in the Watergate investigations, Walters may be best remembered as a vocal advocate for reform of the voluntary tax system into a more taxpayer friendly system. He received attention from the media for his efforts to simplify and clarify tax forms, for his reintroduction of the 1040A form, and for his pledge to crack down on corporate tax fraud.
My memory is of a gracious and elegant gentleman. The world is a lesser place with him gone.