Thrower was IRS chief who thwarted Nixon

By Matt Schudel / The Washington Post

Published Mar 20, 2014 at 12:01AM

Randolph Thrower, who served two years as commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service under President Richard Nixon before clashing with the administration over appointments and its efforts to punish political enemies, died March 8 at his home in Atlanta. He was 100.

A daughter, Patricia Barmeyer, confirmed the death but did not specify a cause.

Thrower had been a tax lawyer and Republican official in Atlanta before being tapped to head the IRS in 1969. In his two years on the job, he introduced a number of reforms, including a simplified, one-page version of Form 1040, the standard individual income-tax form.

He also was instrumental in drafting the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which reduced taxes for people with lower incomes and raised taxes on capital gains. In 1970, he overturned an IRS ruling that had allowed segregated private schools in the South to claim tax exemptions.

It was only after he left his position in 1971 that Thrower’s battles with the Nixon White House came to light. He had agreed in 1969 to set up a special group to investigate the tax-exempt status of “subversive organizations of all kinds.”

As time went on, Thrower grew increasingly resistant to the strong-arm tactics of the Nixon administration. In 1973, he revealed to a Senate select committee investigating the Watergate scandal that in 1970 the White House asked Thrower to hire John Caulfield, a top lieutenant of Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, then a branch of the IRS.

After Thrower rejected Caulfield, who was known for his phone-tapping skills and other “dirty tricks,” the next applicant offered by the White House for the job was G. Gordon Liddy, later convicted as a Watergate conspirator. Thrower turned him down as well.

Documents later provided to congressional committees indicated that the White House asked Thrower to direct the IRS to audit the tax returns of Nixon’s opponents, including journalists, Democratic congressmen and leaders of the antiwar and civil rights movements.

“There was a great suspicion at the White House that IRS was Democratically oriented,” Thrower told the New York Times in 1974. “I had dealt with the service for many years as a tax lawyer, and I knew them to be highly professional and objective.”

Believing that Nixon would be alarmed by such partisan meddling, Thrower sent a memorandum to the president, requesting a meeting. Instead, Thrower received a phone call from Ehrlichman, telling him he was fired.

Randolph William Thrower was born Sept. 5, 1913, in Tampa, Fla. After the death of his father, he was raised largely by his grandparents in Atlanta, where he attended a military school.

After graduating in 1934 from Emory University in Atlanta and from Emory’s law school two years later, Thrower began to practice law. In the early 1940s, he worked as an FBI special agent in New York before serving as a Marine Corps officer during World War II. He lost a race for Congress as a Republican in 1956 but remained active in Republican circles in Georgia.

Thrower’s legal specialty was taxation, but he also handled civil rights appeals throughout his life.