On October 23, 1973, President Richard Nixon put the Saturday Night Massacre into motion with the firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. It followed the resignation of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who refused to carry out the firing themselves. Less than a year later, the president himself stepped down from office instead of going through an impeachment trial.
Those eager to see President Donald Trump get the same treatment as the disgraced Richard have been quick to draw parallels between the Watergate and Russiagate. Even former Hillary Clinton campaign advisor John Podesta piped in with a tweet comparing the two events.
— John Podesta (@johnpodesta) May 9, 2017
The two events do, however, share some dissimilarities. For one, Richard is long gone from office, with decades of further damning evidence released to the public. Additionally, while President Nixon may have been pardoned for his crimes, he lived out the rest of his life in relative obscurity, something, at least, of a recompense for the Watergate scandal.
Opponents of President Trump, on the other hand, are still out for blood, which could make any fresh lead seem like the one that will finally result in an impeachment. Still, when comparing them side-by-side, how much does the casualty of Archibald Cox on the Saturday Night Massacre resemble that of James Comey’s on Tuesday?
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) May 9, 2017
Events of the Saturday Night Massacre
In May of 1973, Archibald was assigned to investigate the break-in of the Watergate complex. A year earlier, a group of men had been caught breaking into the Washington, D.C., offices of the Democratic National Committee. It was later discovered that not only was one of the men a Republican security advisor, but a cashier check in one of their bank accounts could be tied to the Committee for the Re-election of the President (CRP), which had campaigned tirelessly — and later the public would find out, illegally — for Nixon in 1972.
At this point, the interest of the press had been piqued, which led to the emblematic Washington Post coverage that used anonymous sources to unravel Watergate all the way to the highest levels of government. As suspicion spread, the Senate voted unanimously to open an investigation and special prosecutor Cox was assigned to the case. It was later revealed that President Nixon and his team had been bugging not only the offices of his political opponents but also his own office to record conversations that he held with his inner circle.
Sensing the importance of these tapes to the Watergate investigation, Archibald Cox issued a subpoena that the tapes be handed over. Richard initially refused and then attempted to compromise, offering to have them transcribed by Mississippi Sen. John C. Stennis in order to protect national security. It was suspected that this particular designation was actually because the senator in question was hard of hearing.
After being refused by both the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, Solicitor General Robert Bork finally agreed to have Archibald removed from the case. Without Cox, however, the investigation still managed to move forward until the Supreme Court finally ruled, again unanimously, that the tapes must be handed over.
James Comey Comparison
Several publications immediately drew comparisons between the firing of Archibald Cox on the Saturday Night Massacre and what took place on Monday with Comey. Boston Globe ran with the headline “Donald Trump Pulls A Richard Nixon,” an editorial which ended with the plea that the case now “needs a special prosecutor more than ever.” Others, like the New York Times, underlined the significance of Comey, calling the FBI director “the man who potentially most threatened the future of his presidency.” An opinion piece from the paper’s editorial board scoffed at Trump’s official explanation for the firing.
“Mr. Comey was fired because he was leading an active investigation that could bring down a president. Though compromised by his own poor judgment, Mr. Comey’s agency has been pursuing ties between the Russian government and Mr. Trump and his associates, with potentially ruinous consequences for the administration.”
Democratic congressmen also tenuously linked Watergate and the firing of Archibald Cox to the actions of Trump. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that it was a “big mistake” and would cause people to “suspect coverup.” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal called the whole episode “Nixonian” when speaking to CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.
“History never repeats but it rhymes, I think is the adage. It certainly is Nixonian in its air and quality and tone to fire someone of this stature. Even though I’ve had disagreements with him, as General Hayden did, in the midst of an investigation it is absolutely unfathomable for the Commander in Chief of the United States to do in the midst of an investigation.”
Trump himself has been taking shots at Comey on social media for weeks, saying that he had gone too softly on Clinton while investigating her emails. Earlier this week, Clinton herself blamed Comey for sabotaging her campaign just a week before election day by writing a letter saying he would reopen the investigation into her internal communications.
The president has called the investigation into the connections between Russia and the Trump campaign a “taxpayer funded charade.” His dismissal letter also made a reference to Russiagate.
“While I appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
Others were less enthusiastic about the association between James and Archibald. President Nixon’s official presidential library account reminded the public that Richard had never fired the director of the FBI. Trump also didn’t have to fire any of his cabinet members to get his way, and, in fact, seems to have worked in accordance with his Attorney General Jefferson Sessions. Furthermore, some asked how Trump really benefits from firing Comey if another person will just show up in his place, much like getting rid of Cox didn’t stop the Watergate investigation.
Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out that Archibald was never to be removed from the case due to any wrongdoing of his own. Whether or not Trump was simply being opportunistic, Comey’s statement that Clinton aide Huma Abedin had sent hundreds of thousands of classified emails to her husband was so false that the FBI felt the need to send a letter to Congress correcting the record, reported ProPublica. In reality, she only forwarded him a few emails, only two of which had any classified information.
— RichardNixonLibrary (@NixonLibrary) May 9, 2017
Will Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey turn out to be his Saturday Night Massacre, President Richard Nixon’s firing of Watergate scandal investigator Archibald Cox?
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]