(CNN) We’re here again. A powerful and determined President is squaring off against an independent investigator operating inside the Justice Department. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s mission is a comprehensive look at Russian meddling in the 2016 election — and any other crimes he uncovers in the process. President Donald Trump insists it’s all a “witch hunt” and an unfair examination of his family’s personal finances. He constantly complains about the investigation in private and reportedly asked his White House counsel to have Mueller fired. No wonder many people are making comparisons to the Saturday Night Massacre of 1973, when President Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned.
• • •
In April 1973, Nixon persuaded Richardson, his defense secretary, to switch departments and become the attorney general. The president invited him to a Camp David meeting that turned out to be part of the Watergate cover-up: He wanted to ensure that Richardson would be an ally in a new Watergate investigation.
Richardson’s chilly, formal manner evoked the Eastern, academic establishment that Nixon despised. The slow, winding rhetoric that weighed down his conversation drove the president to distraction. Still, he needed Richardson, with his impeccable reputation, to redeem his Justice Department and take charge of the Watergate investigation.
Nixon told him that the investigation must be thorough and complete, though there might be some areas of national security that would have to be left alone. “You must pursue this investigation even if it leads to the president, ” Nixon said, and his eyes met Richardson’s. “I’m innocent. You’ve got to believe I’m innocent. If you don’t, don’t take the job. ”
Vastly relieved, Richardson nodded his acceptance: Nixon, he thought, would never set such an investigation in motion unless he was innocent.
“The important thing is the presidency, ” Nixon continued. “If need be, save the presidency from the president. ”
Richardson, writing on a legal pad, paraphrased the thought: “If the monster is me, save the country. ”
Almost immediately he appointed his old Harvard law professor, Archibald Cox — who had served as President John F. Kennedy’s solicitor general — as special prosecutor to handle Watergate, promising him full independence. Cox set about investigating, and three months later he subpoenaed nine of the White House tapes.
Nixon did not take kindly to this. White House chief of staff Alexander Haig warned Richardson that the president might fire Cox if he weren’t reined in, shaking Richardson’s faith in the president’s innocence. “If we have to have a confrontation, we will have it, ” Haig told him.
A few days later, Haig said he had advised the president to turn over the tapes, but Nixon had refused. The president would resign first. Haig told Richardson he didn’t know whether the president was hiding something or whether he was merely concerned about the principle of confidentiality, but he had never seen Nixon so worked up. “It makes you wonder what must be on those tapes, ” said Haig, who himself was only a few months into the job.
For now, Richardson decided to give Nixon the benefit of the doubt while he oversaw his department’s investigation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, who had been accepting illegal cash payoffs from contractors for years, starting when he was a Maryland official.
In October, Richardson was leaving an Oval Office briefing about the Agnew situation when Nixon called after him. “Now that we have disposed of that matter, we can go ahead and get rid of Cox. ” Richardson didn’t know how to take the remark. But soon the issue would come to a head.
• • •
On Monday, October fifteen, the United States Court of Appeals for your District of Columbia ruled which the president, who had fought the particular order to turn over the nine subpoenaed tapes, must hand them more than — unless the White Home could reach “some agreement with all the Special Prosecutor” out of court. Nixon had until midnight Friday in order to comply, to appeal to the Best Court or to reach a bargain with Cox. Richardson was dubious that the White House and Cox could agree on much of anything within five days.
After the court decision came lower, Haig and White House attorney J. Fred Buzhardt summoned Richardson. They presented the attorney common with a plan: Nixon would individually listen to the subpoenaed recordings plus supervise the preparation of transcripts that would be turned over to the courtroom as a substitute for the tapes. Cox — long a bone in Nixon’s throat and a bad idea to begin with — would be fired. And there is no more litigating over other tapes.
Richardson, outwardly calm, raised a good objection. The plan was contrary to the particular agreement he had made with the United states senate Judiciary Committee during his verification hearings. He had promised that the specific prosecutor could be removed only for “extraordinary improprieties. ” If he had been ordered to fire Cox, he might rather have to resign himself.
Haig and Buzhardt kept their ground. Cox would have to move. Richardson left the White Home bewildered and uncertain of exactly what would happen next.
Haig called him 40 mins later to suggest a give up: Sen. John C. Stennis, the particular 72-year-old Mississippi Democrat who chaired the Senate Armed Services Panel, would be asked to make a comparison involving the transcripts and the tapes. His verified version would be submitted to the courtroom. (No mention was made of the truth that the senator was partially hard of hearing and that the tapes were hard to hear under the best of circumstances. ) If Richardson accepted, Cox may not have to be fired, but Richardson might forbid any further demands for tapes. The president, Haig added, would certainly expect Richardson’s support if it found a showdown with Cox.
Later that time, Richardson called Haig back and caused it to be clear that he was committed simply to the Stennis authentication of the 9 subpoenaed tapes. He couldn’t create any other promises.
Now Richardson needed to sell the Stennis compromise in order to Cox, who wanted to see the conditions in writing. Richardson drafted an agreement nevertheless it would “cover only the tapes heretofore subpoenaed by the Watergate grand court at the request of the Special Prosecutor. ” When he sent this to the White House on Wed morning, October 17, Buzhardt reduce that section. The president, he or she knew, didn’t ever want to learn about future requests for tapes. The particular White House also wanted to enable Stennis to “paraphrase language in whose use in its original form would certainly in his judgment be embarrassing towards the President. ”
Richardson wanted to avoid a conflict with Nixon, and he acquiesced. Yet Cox flatly rejected the give up. “The public cannot fairly become asked to confide so tough and responsible a task to any 1 man operating in secrecy, talking to only with the White House, inch he wrote to the attorney common on Thursday afternoon. And Cox wanted an agreement that would “serve the particular function of a court decision within establishing the Special Prosecutor’s entitlement to other evidence. ” A courtroom might want the actual tapes, the best proof, for any trial.
Richardson took Cox’s memo to some 6 p. m. meeting on the White House. Haig was unaccepting. The White House was looking for a compromise, he said, plus Cox was making it impossible. He or she should be fired, Haig said. 3 other Nixon lawyers in the conference agreed. They were confident that the leader could convince the public he’d served reasonably.
Richardson did not think so. He caused it to be clear that he could live with Cox’s voluntary resignation but that he cannot fire him for refusing the particular Stennis plan.
Later that night, Richardson sitting in his study in McLean, Virginia. The rush of the Potomac River was barely audible in the distance. He wrote at the top of a yellow legal pad: “Why I Must Resign. ” He was sure that Cox could not be persuaded to acquiesce, and he knew that the president wanted Cox out.
Richardson’s first reason for resigning was his promise to the Senate to guarantee the independence of the special prosecutor. Second, he wrote that Cox was being required to accept less than he had won in two court decisions. “While Cox has rejected a proposal I consider reasonable, his rejection of it cannot be regarded” as grounds for his removal. The next morning Richardson planned to make that clear towards the president.
Yet that night, Nixon was sketching his own red lines. Even if Richardson was on his side, the Stennis deal was not sufficient if it failed to block future demands for tapes. Buzhardt wanted him to keep it alone — the Stennis compromise for now would be a giant stage toward the end of Watergate.
Eventually, Nixon blew up at him. “No, inch the president said. “No, time period! ”
Buzhardt had been sure he could maneuver Cox into a position where the special prosecutor would have to resign, since the White Home and Richardson would be lined up towards him. But to do it, he required some negotiating room. The chief executive had just denied him specifically that. By asserting that the exclusive prosecutor could not subpoena additional proof, they were laying credible grounds designed for Cox’s defiance — instead of their resignation. And they were probably tossing Richardson into Cox’s arms. Today a showdown was inevitable.
• • •
Earlier the next morning, Friday, October nineteen, Richardson had “Why I Must Resign” typed and put it in his wallet. He called Haig and requested to see the president. But when Richardson reached about 10 a. m., Haig had a new deal. “Suppose we all go ahead with the Stennis plan with out firing Cox, ” he mentioned. Instead, they would persuade the is of interest court to accept the transcripts rather than the tapes, allowing use of the Stennis bargain without Cox’s assent. Perhaps the United states senate Watergate Committee would also acknowledge transcripts.
Richardson was taken aback. That would be great, he said, thinking to themselves that he wouldn’t have to resign, possibly. Haig said he would try to convince the president.
Richardson was in for another surprise whenever he learned at the meeting that will White House lawyers had requested Cox “not to subpoena some other White House tape, paper or even document. ” Obviously, the specific prosecutor could not accept that, which had not been part of the proposal Richardson experienced submitted to Cox. Buzhardt stated the president had forced these to add this new condition the prior night.
Haig left his office and returned soon to announce that Nixon had agreed to keep Cox. It absolutely was “bloody, bloody, ” Haig mentioned. “I pushed so hard that the usefulness to the president may be more than. ”
Richardson tried to add things up in his personal mind. The Stennis compromise a new new element: no future gain access to. He was willing to accept this — barely. Cox could step down or keep his job, when he chose, and Richardson would not need to fire him. Negotiations could carry on. Richardson’s reasons for quitting, neatly entered, stayed folded in his pocket. Today Haig thought he had Richardson aboard.
Buzhardt stated that the next problem was how to include Cox. Couldn’t Richardson simply purchase him not to go to court once again for tapes? Cox would probably step down, but nobody appeared particularly worried by that prospect. Richardson still left the meeting, sure that there would be additional discussion before any such orders had been issued to Cox.
Back at his workplace, Richardson reviewed the White Home meeting with his aides. They had anticipated him to resign, and they are not convinced that he could permit a establish limit on Cox’s future access with no violating his agreement with the United states senate. So Richardson called back Haig and then Buzhardt, insisting that the issue of future access must not be from the Stennis plan. They promised to consider up the question with the president once again. Richardson relaxed, sure that he had prevented the immediate bind.
But the president was steadfast. Whatever solution was arrived at, this had to solve the problem of the tapes once and for all, he told Buzhardt plus Haig.
On 7 p. m., Haig known as Richardson to read him a notice from the president that, he stated, was on its way to him: “I am instructing you to direct Unique Prosecutor Archibald Cox of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force that he would be to make no further attempts simply by judicial process to obtain tapes, information or memoranda of Presidential discussions. ”
Richardson was distressed that he had not been conferred with. Haig said he had done their best. He had twice tried to create Richardson’s position clear to the chief executive. He had failed. Richardson took treatment to avoid saying whether he would problem the order.
But after Haig hung upward, Nixon aides decided to announce the particular order through a White House seo press releases, thus eliminating Richardson as intermediary. The order, in the president’s title, was made directly to Cox, “as an employee of the executive branch. inch
This was excessive for Richardson. “I will not perform what the White House asks associated with me, ” he told one more Nixon aide. “I’ve never already been so shabbily treated in my existence. ” He began drawing up his own push statement.
Haig called him and persuaded your pet to calm down. Prominent members associated with both parties were favorably disposed towards the compromise, he pointed out.
Richardson let another opportunity for confrontation pass. He failed to like bloodletting. He thanked Haig for his call. Richardson acquired negotiated Agnew’s resignation, and he sensed he could once again avert a nationwide trauma.
Yet Cox was now faced with a good order from the president to avoid seeking more tapes. In fact , Cox was getting no tapes — merely transcripts. He reasoned which he had the court, the law as well as the attorney general on his side. He or she announced that he would have a news meeting early the next afternoon, Saturday, Oct 20.
Buzhardt expected Cox would announce their resignation. That will be tough, he considered to himself, but the president can weather conditions it. Yet when Cox walked before the cameras, he said he’d continue pressing in court for your tapes. He might be compelled in order to ask that Nixon be kept in contempt if the White Home refused to turn them over.
Still, Cox recognized the obvious: “Now, eventually a leader can always work his will certainly, ” he said. “You keep in mind when Andrew Jackson wanted to take those deposits from the Bank of the United States great secretary of the treasury wouldn’t get it done. He fired him and then he or she appointed a new secretary of the treasury, and he wouldn’t do it, and he terminated him. And finally he got another who would. That’s one way of proceeding. inch
• • •
To Nixon, this was the ultimate defiance. He had issued a clear order in order to Cox, who was an employee of the professional branch. The president needed to display that he was in control. He informed Haig to have Cox fired.
Haig called Richardson and ordered him to fire Cox. He was pretty sure Richardson more than likely do it. As expected, Richardson replied which he wanted to see the president, to send his resignation. In the midafternoon he or she went to the White House, plus Haig started working him more than: He must not resign now. Fireplace Cox, wait a week, and then step down.
“What would you like me to do, ” Richardson questioned sarcastically, “write a letter associated with resignation, get it notarized to show I wrote it today, plus let it surface in a week? inch
“That’s not really a bad idea, ” Haig responded matter-of-factly.
“I want to see the president, ” Richardson said.
He or she walked into the Oval Office from 4: 30 p. m., plus immediately Nixon urged him in order to delay. Nixon knew that shooting Cox would invite a proceed to impeach.
Richardson said he could not. He has been thinking to himself that this was your worst moment in all his many years of service in government. He had been standing there, refusing an immediate demand of the president of the United States. He previously considered himself a team gamer.
“I’m i am sorry you feel that you have to act on your dedication to Cox and his independence, inch the president said, “and not really the larger public interest. ”
There was a expensive of anger. “Maybe, ” Richardson replied hotly, “your perception plus my perception of the public attention differ. ”
That was the end.
Deputy Attorney General William G. Ruckelshaus was now the performing attorney general. Haig phoned your pet, painting a picture of cataclysm in case Ruckelshaus did not fire Cox. “As you probably know, ” he mentioned, “Elliot Richardson feels he can not execute the orders of the Leader. ”
“That is right, I know that. ”
“Are you ready to do so? ”
“Well, you know what it means when an purchase comes down from the commander in key and a member of his team are unable to execute it. ”
“That is right. ”
Haig thought Ruckelshaus was fired. Ruckelshaus presumed he previously resigned.
Around 6 p. m., Solicitor Common Robert Bork, the third in control at the Justice Department, accepted the particular order and signed the Whitened House draft of a two-paragraph notice firing Cox. At 8: twenty two p. m., White House push secretary Ron Ziegler announced this particular news, adding that, further, “the office of the Watergate Special Criminal prosecution Force has been abolished as of around 8 p. m. ”
After 9 l. m., Haig sent FBI officials to seal off the offices associated with Richardson, Ruckelshaus and Cox to avoid any files from being eliminated.
The television systems offered hourlong specials. The papers carried banner headlines. Within 2 days, 150, 000 telegrams had found its way to the capital, the largest concentrated volume within the history of Western Union. Deans of the very most prestigious law schools in the country required that Congress commence an impeachment inquiry.
From the following Tuesday, 44 separate Watergate-related bills had been introduced in the House. Twenty-two called for an impeachment investigation.
• • •
Shortly thereafter, Nixon made two fateful miscalculations: He appointed another unique prosecutor to replace Cox, and he flipped over an initial batch of tapes, including one that vividly incriminated your pet. The Trump-Mueller history is however to be written.