Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Remembering Richard Nixon's Infamous Tax Evasion

NixonThe Washington Post's obituary of Mary Livingston recounts the role that she played in one of oddest chapters in the tax law:

Mary Walton McCandlish Livingston, 92, a federal archivist whose testimony before Congress revealed that President Richard M. Nixon's donated papers were improperly backdated, died March 23 ...

Mrs. Livingston, a senior archivist in the Office of Presidential Libraries at the National Archives for 30 years, supervised work on Nixon's early papers. In March 1970, while working with a manuscript dealer chosen by Nixon, she selected 1,176 boxes of personal papers that the president intended to donate to the nation. A change in federal tax law would have prevented Nixon from taking a deduction for the donation. But the dealer prepared an affidavit that said Nixon donated his vice presidential papers a year earlier than he actually did, which gave the president a $450,000 tax break. Public indignation at Nixon's nonpayment of federal taxes led to a hearing before the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation. Mrs. Livingston testified that the president could not have donated the papers in 1969 because the dealer asked her to select the papers a year later....

The dealer aroused her suspicions from the start, Mrs. Livingston told the committee, when he wanted her to keep their interaction from her supervisor. She promptly filed a memo to her boss. Three years later, when a newspaper story mentioned Nixon's tax deductions, she wrote another memo, suggesting that investigators seek out the original deed of donation. Her testimony before Congress resulted in a 1974 ruling that the deduction was improper. She was also an important witness in the 1975 fraud trial of the manuscript dealer, who was convicted. Mrs. Livingston received an award from the Society of American Archivists for her "conscientious performance of duty." ...

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I had no idea this happened (and I like to think of myself as being a well-read). I'm glad Mary Livingston took a stand. Her award was well deserved. May she rest in peace.

Posted by: Sam | Mar 27, 2007 3:07:19 AM

Calling it "Richard Nixon's Infamous Tax Evasion" is rather harsh. Nixon stated he did not know about the backdating, and that explanation is at least plausible. The dealer could very well have decided that a false affidavit was preferable to telling an important client that he didn't get the job done on time. The deduction was of course disallowed, and Nixon suffered significant political damage when he could least afford it, but he never faced any criminal charges.

Posted by: Claude | Mar 27, 2007 3:02:53 PM