Saturday Night Massacre

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The Saturday Night Massacre was a pivotal event in the Watergate scandal which eventually led to President Richard Nixon's resignation. In May of 1973, Attorney General Elliot Richardson appointed his former professor Archibald Cox as Watergate Special Prosecutor. During his investigation, Cox attempted to gain access to the Watergate tapes, audio tapes which recorded President Nixon's conversations in the White House, including some about Watergate. On Saturday, October 20, 1973, Cox told the president that he could not comply with a deal Nixon had worked out with Senate investigators to turn over only summaries of the tapes, and that he would continue to pursue them. In response, Nixon summoned Attorney General Richardson and ordered him to fire Cox. Richardson refused, and Nixon demanded his resignation. Nixon then summoned Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus and ordered him to fire Cox. He also refused, and Nixon fired him. Nixon then called in Solicitor General Robert Bork, who became Acting Attorney General upon Richardson and Ruckelshaus's departure. Bork complied with Nixon's order and fired Cox. Nixon then abolished the Office of the Special Prosecutor, and the firings were announced by the White House at 8:25 PM that evening.

The Massacre created a media firestorm and led many to conclude that Nixon had to be covering something up which the tapes would reveal. Others investigating Watergate were galvanized and continued to press for the tapes. In July of 1974, the Supreme Court ordered the tapes to be turned over; Nixon resigned that August to avoid impeachment.

The Massacre continues to have effects today. A decade after the event, then-Judge Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected, and his participation in the Massacre was certainly remembered by some of the Senators and commentators who opposed his nomination. Since the failed Bork nomination, the nomination process has become more politicized regardless of the president's party affiliation, perhaps for good.

The Washington Post story reporting on the Massacre can be found here.

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