James Comey Tom Williams/Getty Images

A Long Way from Comey to Watergate

President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is unprecedented, as is much of what Trump has undertaken as president. Despite similarities with President Richard M. Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” 44 years ago, during the Watergate scandal, the political situations are utterly different.

PRINCETON – President Donald J. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is unprecedented, as is much of what Trump has undertaken as president. Despite similarities with President Richard M. Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” 44 years ago, during the Watergate scandal, the political situations are utterly different.

In October 1973, Nixon, waiting until a weekend, ordered the dismissal of a newly appointed special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who had issued a subpoena demanding that Nixon hand over secretly recorded – and, as would become clear, highly damning – White House tapes.

Nixon’s defiance was direct, and the result was disastrous. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned in protest rather than carry out the president’s order. A federal judge ruled the firing of Cox illegal. Public opinion polls showed, for the first time, a plurality of Americans favoring Nixon’s impeachment.

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