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Richard Nixon: The godfather of "Nixonian tactics" believed he'd been a political target of the agency in the Truman administration—not that he needed an excuse to use the Internal Revenue Service as a tool with which to dispatch "enemies." Under Tricky Dick, the IRS created the Special Services Staff (SSS) to investigate thousands of perceived enemy groups and individuals. (Nixon aide Pat Buchanan feared that groups like the Ford Foundation and Brookings Institution were acting essentially as Democratic organs.) White House counsel John Dean testified that the administration pushed the IRS to audit reporters who wrote stories critical of Nixon, such as Newsday's Robert Greene. Nixon himself wanted the SSS to focus on political adversaries like 1972 presidential challenger George McGovern, student groups, and civil rights organizations like the NAACP. When the IRS audited Billy Graham, a Nixon ally, the president responded with force: "Get the word down to the IRS that I want them to conduct field audits of those who are our opponents, if they're going to do in our friends."
Jimmy Carter: Republicans accused the born-again Christian president of an "unconstitutional regulatory vendetta" against religious institutions after his IRS director, Jerome Kurtz, introduced new regulation to end the tax-exempt status of Christian schools. Kurtz ultimately had to retain Secret Service protection after a wave of death threats from supporters of religious education.
Ronald Reagan: This one hit close to home. Mother Jones had been around for six years when, in 1981, Ronald Reagan's IRS tried to shut it down. The agency concluded that the magazine was not living up to its tax-exempt motives and instead functioned like any other publishing house, with the goal of making as much money as possible. That was weird, given that Mother Jones had to that point never made a profit. The timing was also suspicious—a half-dozen or so other left-of-center publications came in for the same scrutiny by the agency. MoJo eventually won—but not until it had burned hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Bill Clinton: The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which filed a string of lawsuits against the administration centering on public records, alleged that it was in the crosshairs of the Clinton White House—along with a dozen other groups and individuals that had gotten on the president's bad side. The list of of audited parties in the Clinton era included Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, the Heritage Foundation, and the National Rifle Association. Documents later released by the IRS during the Bush administration revealed that high-ranking Democrats, including a half-dozen members of Congress, had written to the IRS requesting an investigation into Judicial Watch’s nonprofit status. One IRS official allegedly told the group, "What do you expect when you sue the president?"
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