It went down in history as "The Saturday night massacre" and it is a prime example of presidential power misused. Like a boomerang, what Nixon threw came around and hit him in the back of the head.
The president believed he was above the law, so he ordered the Attorney General of the United States, Elliot Richardson to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox (you don't meet many people named Archibald these days). Richardson refused and resigned. Next up in the DOJ was William Ruckelshaus, who also refused. As you will read below, Nixon did not get to an ASA assigned to the Hialeah Branch Court to do his bidding, but almost.
Nixon refused to turn over the tapes made in the Oval Office, lost in the US Supreme Court in US v. Nixon, (which is now a bane to federal criminal defense attorneys everywhere seeking a rule 17(c) subpoena) and eventually resigned, consigned to history to be opined upon by the likes of the Honorable Judge Hirsch, who provides us, free of charge, a timely constitutional calendar today:
(Longtime and careful readers know that this isn't our first post on this subject. You can review the other one here).
“Nixon Forces Firing of Cox; Richardson, Ruckelshaus Quit”
– Washington Post headline, Sunday, Oct. 21, 1973
A former aid to White House insider H. R. Haldeman revealed to a congressional Watergate committee that President Nixon had recorded secret conversations in the Oval Office. Archibald Cox, the bowtie-wearing Harvard professor who had been appointed the Watergate independent special prosecutor, obtained a court order directing the Nixon White House to produce the tapes. Nixon, furious and running for his political life, ordered his Attorney General, Eliot Richardson simply to fire Cox. To the president’s astonishment and outrage, Richardson refused. In what must have been a scene evocative of a Leoncavallo opera, Nixon responded with something like a curse: “Let it be on your head,” he seethed at Richardson.
Nixon then ordered the next in command at DOJ, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus instead submitted his own resignation, writing to the president that, “I am, of course, sorry that my conscience will not permit me to carry out your instruction to discharge Archibald Cox.” Finally, in Solicitor General Robert Bork Nixon found a man to do his bidding. “I am, as instructed by the president, discharging you, effective at once, from your position as Special Prosecutor, Watergate Special Prosecution Force,” Bork wrote to Cox.
Nixon had underestimated the national sense of outrage. NBC news anchor John Chancellor told his viewers, “The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history.” David Broder of the Washington Post coined the phrase “the Saturday night massacre” to refer to what had happened, and the phrase stuck. Professor Cox released a statement which included the dire message, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately for the American people.”
As talk of impeachment swirled around him, Nixon backed down. He appointed the highly-respected Leon Jaworski as special prosecutor, and announced that he would produce the tape recordings
Can't get enough of the Judge K story of the day? Then head over the Mr. Markus's blog where he has a Palm Beach Post story covering the career of the former Dade State and Federal prosecutor.
Or just click the link here to the story which opines that the Judge may have a G-d complex.