On the night of Oct. 20, 1973, the United States was gripped by a constitutional crisis unlike any in its history.
President Richard Nixon, under investigation for his role in the Watergate scandal, ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor handling the case, rather than cooperate with the probe. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned in protest, after refusing to carry out the president’s orders. Nixon went on to abolish the special prosecutor’s office entirely.
The events became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” It marked one of the most sordid moments in White House history, with the president using his political power to thwart an investigation and retaliate against his opponents in government.
“Saturday Night Massacre” re-emerged in the popular lexicon again on Monday, when President Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates over her instruction to Justice Department lawyers not to defend Trump’s order shutting U.S. borders to refugees worldwide and travelers from seven mostly Muslim countries.
The White House sharply criticized Yates, saying she had “betrayed” the department by refusing to enforce a “legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” Trump appointed Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to replace her.
Shortly after, the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was also demoted and replaced.
The circumstances differed significantly from those surrounding the Saturday Night Massacre. But almost instantly, Trump’s move drew comparisons to the…
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