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99-Year-Old Former IRS Commissioner Mortimer Caplin on Life and Taxes

June 1, 2016, The Wall Street Journal

Mortimer M. Caplin has been watching the drama around the Internal Revenue Service since 2013 with the perspective of someone who has seen it all before, because he has. Mr. Caplin, who will turn 100 years old in July, ran the U.S. tax agency from 1961 to 1964 before becoming a founding member of the Caplin & Drysdale law firm in Washington.  He spoke with Richard Rubin of The Wall Street Journal's "Real Time Economics" about the IRS and how tax law has changed over time.  For the full interview, please visit The Wall Street Journal's website (subscription required).

Mortimer Caplin, 99, ran the Internal Revenue Service under President John F. Kennedy

Excerpt taken from the article.

WSJ: When and how did you find out that you were going to be nominated?

Mr. Caplin: I was teaching at the University of Virginia. I was a law professor. And I had Bob Kennedy and Ted Kennedy as students. One of the partners [at a firm I worked with] was Bill Battle, one of the younger partners, and he had been in World War II with Jack Kennedy. So it brought us all together a little bit more. I had written a lot of articles and teaching for these years from 1950 right up to the election day.

Kennedy gets elected and I get a call from Ted Sorensen saying that President-elect Kennedy wanted to form a task force on taxation. I was appointed and met with Kennedy. He had seen our report. We gave him a brief summary and he then tells me that I’ll hear from him in a few days or from Bobby. And I did get word from Bob Kennedy. We met up in Washington. I answered a lot of questions, my attitude, and wrote him a long letter. He wanted me to put it in writing.

[A newspaper] wrote an article about my being considered for possibly assistant secretary of the Treasury. I didn’t really want that job. I thought I would have more freedom as Commissioner of Internal Revenue. I’d have my own building, my own staff and all that, and not be the assistant secretary for tax policy. And lo and behold, it all worked out. I had a great, great, great time in that job.


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