Saturday Night Massacre 1973: Trump's Comey firing is not without precedent

Saturday Night Massacre 1973: Trump's Comey firing is not without precedent
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump unceremoniously fired FBI Director James Comey, the man who happened to also be investigating his administration's ties to Russia

"Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office," a statement from the White House explained. "President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions."

Almost immediately after news broke that Comey was out of a job, social media users began comparing it to President Richard Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre," where he too fired the man investigating his administration.

In 1973, Nixon was being investigated by a special prosecutor named Archibald Cox as part of an ongoing probe into the Watergate scandal, the Washington Post reported earlier this year. On Saturday, October 20 of that year, Nixon fired Cox and later accepted the resignations of his Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus, in what the Post at the time called "the most traumatic government upheaval of the Watergate crisis." Nixon would also eliminate the office of the special prosecutor and turned the entire investigation over to the Justice Department, the Post reported at the time.

Both Richardson and Ruckelshaus resigned in protest and refused to carry out the president's orders to fire Cox, according to the Post. Immediately after the incident, FBI agents sealed off the offices of Richardson, Ruckelshaus and Cox.

Following Nixon's alarming show of power, more than 50,000 citizens sent telegrams to Washington, the History Channel reported. Twenty-one members of Congress introduced resolutions calling for Nixon's impeachment. Nixon would eventually give in and reappoint another special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, to lead the Watergate probe. It was Jaworski who would eventually resurrect the investigation and secure the release of Nixon's now-infamous Oval Office recordings in July 1974. The tapes are widely regarded as the "smoking gun" that led to Nixon's resignation in August of that year.

This isn't the first time Trump has been compared to Nixon.

In January, Trump also fired then acting Attorney General Sally Yates for her refusal to defend his executive order on immigration, just as Richardson and Ruckelshaus refused to carry out Nixon's request. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer even called Yates' firing the "Monday Night Massacre" in a speech on the Senate floor.

While circumstances differ between the firings of Yates, Cox and Comey, the brazen show of executive power by both presidents is eerily similar. Trump's administration maintains Comey was let go because he overstepped in his investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. But critics already suspect that the move was more motivated by Comey's ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

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Stacey Leasca

Stacey Leasca is a news writer with Mic. Her byline has appeared in Travel+Leisure, the Los Angeles Times, GOOD Magazine and more. When not writing you can find her surfing in Southern California.

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