January 31

Revisiting the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’

In the dark days of the Watergate scandal, former president Richard Nixon pushed out two attorney generals and the special prosecutor of the Watergate investigation in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

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 him. 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 for instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend his order shutting U.S. borders to refugees worldwide and travelers from seven mostly Muslim countries.

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Trump Fires Acting AG Who Defied Ban

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Just hours after Acting Attorney General Sally Yates ordered the Department of Justice not to defend President Donald Trump’s refugee ban, the Trump administration ousted her from office. Yates, an Obama appointee, was tasked with serving as attorney general from Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration until his own AG nominee was approved. On Monday evening, Yates announced that the DOJ would not defend Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries while she was in office. Hours later, the Trump administration issued a statement calling Yates “weak” and announcing Dana Boente as her replacement.

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