“Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.”
–Archibald Cox, in a statement after being fired by President Nixon
Yesterday’s firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump — amid an investigation by the FBI of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia — has reminded many of the last time a president fired the person in charge of investigating him. In 1973, in the middle of the Watergate investigation, President Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor in charge, Archibald Cox, after Cox subpoenaed Nixon for copies of Oval Office recordings. Nixon’s Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General resigned in protest, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” (Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions supported the decision to fire Comey.) Public opinion turned against Nixon, as polls following Cox’s firing showed a majority of the country supporting impeachment. Congress began impeachment proceedings the following year and shortly after Nixon resigned.
Learn more about the Saturday Night Massacre, and the history of legal checks on rulers, in our film Magna Carta and the Constitution.