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Context of 'October 19-20, 1973: ’Saturday Night Massacre;’ Public Demands Impeachment'

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Washington Post headline of firings.Washington Post headline of firings. [Source: Washington Post]After Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox refuses President Nixon’s offer of a “compromise” on the issue of the White House tapes (see October 19, 1973), Nixon orders (through his chief of staff Alexander Haig) Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refuses the presidential order, and resigns on the spot. Haig then orders Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refuses, and resigns also. Haig finally finds a willing Justice Department official in Solicitor General Robert Bork, who is named acting attorney general and fires Cox. (Of the firing, Bork tells reporters, “All I will say is that I carried out the president’s directive.”) White House press secretary Ronald Ziegler announces that the Office of the Special Prosecutor has been abolished. FBI agents are sent to prevent Cox’s staff from taking their files out of their offices. Ziegler justifies the firing by saying that Cox “defied” Nixon’s instructions “at a time of serious world crisis” and made it “necessary” for Nixon to discharge him. After his firing, Cox says, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.” The press dubs Cox’s firings and the abolishment of the OSP the “Saturday Night Massacre,” and the public reacts with a fury unprecedented in modern American political history. In a period of ten days, Congress receives more than a million letters and telegrams (some sources say the number is closer to three million), almost all demanding Nixon’s impeachment. Congress will soon launch an impeachment inquiry. Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman writes in 1974 that Cox’s firing was not a result of impetuous presidential anger. Nixon had been more than reluctant to accept a special prosecutor for Watergate. Cox, named special prosecutor in the spring of 1973, had quickly earned the ire of White House officials and of Nixon himself, and by October 7, Nixon had announced privately that Cox would be fired. [Washington Post, 10/21/1973; Sussman, 1974, pp. 251; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, Archibald Cox, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Barry Sussman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard M. Nixon, William Ruckelshaus, John Stennis, Elliot Richardson, Robert Bork, Ron Ziegler

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Time magazine cover featuring Leon Jaworski.Time magazine cover featuring Leon Jaworski. [Source: Time]Leon Jaworski is named the new special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation, replacing the fired Archibald Cox (see October 19-20, 1973). President Nixon also names William Saxbe as the new attorney general, replacing Elliot Richardson. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Elliot Richardson, Archibald Cox, Richard M. Nixon, William Saxbe, Leon Jaworski

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Just hours after President Ford announces his pardon of Richard Nixon (see September 8, 1974), he sees evidence that the pardon is even more unpopular than he had feared. The White House switchboard is flooded with “angry calls, heavy and constant,” as Ford’s lawyer Philip Buchen will later recall. The response, says resigning press secretary Jerald terHorst (see September 8, 1974), is roughly 8-1 against. TerHorst’s admission to the press that he is resigning over the pardon adds even more fuel to the blaze of criticism. “I resigned,” terHorst tells reporters, “because I just couldn’t remain part of an act that I felt was ethically wrong.” Reporters almost uniformly side with terHorst against Ford; as author Barry Werth will later write, “the press concluded intrinsically that terHorst’s act of conscience trumped the president’s.” TerHorst’s resignation is inevitably compared to Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” (see October 19-20, 1973), and engenders a similar avalanche of press criticism and public outrage. The day after, protesters greet Ford in Pittsburgh with chants of “Jail Ford!” Conservative columnist George Will writes, “The lethal fact is that Mr. Ford has now demonstrated that… he doesn’t mean what he says.” The New York Times calls the pardon a “profoundly unwise, divisive, and unjust act.… This blundering intervention is a body blow to the president’s own credibility and to the public’s reviving confidence in the integrity of its government.” Ford’s popularity plunges almost overnight from 70 percent to 48 percent; fewer than one in five Americans identify themselves as Republicans. Ford’s biographer John Robert Greene will write that journalists begin “treating Ford as just another Nixon clone in the White House—deceitful, controlled by the leftover Nixonites, and in general no different than any of his immediate predecessors.” Werth will conclude that Ford’s “self-sacrific[e]” is the political equivalent of him “smothering a grenade.” Nixon’s refusal to atone in any fashion for his crimes placed the burden of handling Watergate squarely on Ford’s shoulders, and that burden will weigh on his presidency throughout his term, as well as damage his chances for election in 1976. Ford will later write: “I thought people would consider his resignation from the presidency as sufficient punishment and shame. I thought there would be greater forgiveness.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 328-332] Years later, Ford’s chief of staff, Dick Cheney, will reflect that the pardon should have “been delayed until after the 1974 elections because I think it did cost us seats [in Congress]. If you say that that is a political judgment, it’s true, but then, the presidency is a political office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 27]

Entity Tags: Barry Werth, George Will, Jerald terHorst, John Robert Greene, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard M. Nixon, New York Times, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Philip Buchen

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The research staff for British interviewer David Frost, preparing for his upcoming interviews with former President Richard Nixon (see Early 1976), receive two key documents from Leon Jaworski’s special prosecutor files (see November 1, 1973) that are, in essence, the government’s plan for questioning Nixon if he were to ever take the stand as a criminal defendant in federal court. One document is entitled “RMN [Richard Milhous Nixon] and the Money,” and concentrates on the March 21, 1973, conversation with then-White House counsel John Dean concerning Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s demand for “hush money” (see Mid-November, 1972) and the attempts in the following weeks to explain away the payments to Hunt. The document is divided into five parts: Nixon’s statements about the money; Nixon’s knowledge of the payouts before March 21; the nature of the payment itself; the cover-up of Nixon’s role in the payout; and Nixon’s role in developing a defense against possible obstruction of justice charges. The second document cites excerpts from the June 20, 1972, conversations between Nixon and his then-senior aide Charles Colson (see June 20, 1972 and June 20, 1972). [Reston, 2007, pp. 45-47]

Entity Tags: David Frost, Charles Colson, E. Howard Hunt, John Dean, Richard M. Nixon, Leon Jaworski

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Robert Bork.Robert Bork. [Source: National Constitution Center]The controversial nomination of conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is defeated in the US Senate. Bork is denied a seat on the Court in a 58-42 vote, because his views are thought to be extremist and even some Republicans vote against him.
'Right-Wing Zealot' - Bork, nominated by President Reagan as one of the sitting judges who most completely reflects Reagan’s judiciary philosophy (see 1985-1986), is characterized even by administration officials as a “right-wing zealot.” Reagan also wants a nominee to placate the hard right over their disaffection caused by the brewing Iran-Contra scandal. However, to make him more palatable for the majority of Americans, Reagan officials attempt to repackage Bork as a moderate conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) attacks Bork’s political philosophy, saying before the committee hearings: “[In Bork’s America] women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is the—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.… No justice would be better than this injustice.” Kennedy’s words provoke complaint, but the characterization of Bork is based on his lengthy record of court verdicts and his large body of judicial writings.
Racial Equality Issues - Although there is no evidence to suggest that Bork is himself a racist, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that “his positions on civil rights were an anathema to all who cared about equality in America.” Constitutional law professor Herman Schwartz will write in 2004, “Bork condemned the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause decisions outlawing the poll tax (to him it was just ‘a very small tax’), the decision establishing the one-person, one-vote principle, abolishing school segregation in the District of Columbia, barring courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants, preventing a state from sterilizing certain criminals or interfering with the right to travel, and prohibiting discrimination against out-of-wedlock children…. Bork’s hostility to governmental action on behalf of minorities did not stop with his critique of court action. In 1963 he criticized a section of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required white businesses to serve blacks as resting on a principle of ‘unsurpassed ugliness.’”
Ready to Fight - The Reagan administration understands that Bork’s nomination is opposed; on July 1, the day of his announced nomination, the media reports that Reagan will try to ensure Bork’s confirmation by waging an “active campaign.” Even Senate-savvy James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, is uncertain about Bork’s chances at being confirmed, and further worries that even if Bork wins the fight, the cost to Reagan’s political capital will be too high.
His Own Worst Enemy - Conservatives Justice Department official Terry Eastland will later say Senate Democrats sabotage Bork’s chances at faring well in the confirmation hearings, even positioning his table to ensure the least favorable angles for Bork on television. However, the public’s opinion of Bork is unfavorable, and Dean will write: “[I]t was not the position of his chair in the hearing room that made Bork look bad, but rather his arrogance, his hubris, and his occasional cold-bloodedness, not to mention his equivocations and occasional ‘confirmation conversions,’ where he did what no one else could do. He made himself a terrible witness who did not appear to be truthful.” The confirmation conversions even surprise some of his supporters, as Bork abandons his previous stances that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause does not apply to women. The Senate Judiciary Committee passes Bork’s nomination along to the full Senate, where Bork is defeated 58-42.
The Verb 'To Bork' - In 2007, Dean will write, “Bork’s defeat made him both a martyr and a verb,” and quotes conservative pundit William Safire as writing that “to bork” someone means to viciously attack a political figure, particularly by misrepresenting that figure in the media. [Dean, 2007, pp. 137-143]

Entity Tags: Herman Schwartz, US Department of Justice, Gregory Peck, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Supreme Court, William Safire, Ronald Reagan, James A. Baker, Senate Judiciary Committee, Terry Eastland, Robert Bork, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Retired General William Odom, the former head of the NSA under Ronald Reagan, says that President Bush’s Iraq policies are a collective geostrategical disaster. He says: “Bush hasn’t found the WMD. Al-Qaeda, it’s worse, he’s lost on that front.… That he’s going to achieve democracy there? That goal is lost, too.… Right now, the course we’re on, we’re achieving bin Laden’s goals.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 316-317]

Entity Tags: William Odom

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Screen graphic from CNN’s coverage of Lewis Libby’s indictment.Screen graphic from CNN’s coverage of Lewis Libby’s indictment. [Source: CNN / Flickr]Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Libby is accused of “outing” Valerie Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), and then lying about it to the FBI and to a grand jury empaneled by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see December 30, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Libby immediately resigns his position as Cheney’s chief of staff. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; CNN, 5/14/2006; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Five Counts of Obstruction, Two Counts of Perjury - Libby is indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; MSNBC, 2/21/2007] Though the original investigation was of the Plame Wilson leak, Fitzgerald says it is important to understand that Libby’s crimes, though not the prime focus of the initial investigation, should be prosecuted as well. “Investigators do not set out to investigate the statute, they set out to gather the facts,” he says. The indictment does not charge Libby with knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert agent. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Confirms that CIA Agent's Status Classified; Important to National Security - Fitzgerald confirms that the fact of Plame Wilson’s employment at the CIA was in and of itself classified information, and not to be shared to the media or the public. He says: “The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It’s important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security.… [T]he damage wasn’t to one person. It wasn’t just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). [New York Times, 10/28/2005; Nation, 3/16/2007]
Libby Lied about Knowledge of Plame Wilson's Status, Indictment Charges - The indictment charges that Libby lied when he claimed that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see November 24, 2003, March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and August 7, 2004). Instead, the indictment charges, Libby learned about Plame Wilson and her possible role in sending her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) from a number of people, including an undersecretary of state (see June 10, 2003), a CIA officer who regularly briefed him on national security issues (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), an unidentified “senior CIA officer,” and from his superior, Cheney (see (June 12, 2003)). In his turn, Libby shared that information with several officials in the Office of the Vice President, including Cheney’s senior counsel David Addington (see July 8, 2003), Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah (see May 29, 2003), and Cheney’s press secretary at the time, Cathie Martin (who may have actually informed Libby—see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). “In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson” (see June 23, 2003), Fitzgerald says. “[T]o be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story,” he adds. “It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; National Journal, 10/30/2005] (The unidentified “senior CIA officer” is later revealed to be Frederick Fleitz, who served both as a senior officer at the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) desk and as Undersecretary of State John Bolton’s chief of staff—see (June 11, 2003).) [Raw Story, 11/2/2005] Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal defense attorney who writes for the progressive blog TalkLeft, notes that according to the indictment, the phrases used by Libby in his denials to the grand jury were nearly verbatim echoes of Cheney’s own denials as told to NBC’s Tim Russert in September 2003 (see September 14, 2003). [Jeralyn Merritt, 10/31/2005]
Sought Information on Plame Wilson's CIA Status - The indictment also charges that Libby sought information from the CIA and the State Department about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and tried to determine whether she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger. According to the indictment, Libby asked David Addington, the chief counsel to Cheney, “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas trip.” The court papers do not say what action, if any, Addington may have taken in response to Libby’s request. [New York Times, 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/28/2005 pdf file; National Journal, 12/16/2005]
Discussed with Multiple Officials before Leaking to Reporters - In a press conference, Fitzgerald walks reporters and listeners through the indictment: from Libby’s learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from State Department and CIA sources and from Cheney, through his discussing it with at least three White House officials, all before the supposed “disclosure” from Russert. Libby subsequently lied to the FBI and to Fitzgerald’s grand jury about those discussions with government officials and again with Miller and Time reporter Matthew Cooper. “[H]e lied about it afterwards,” Fitzgerald says, “under oath and repeatedly.… [A]nyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct, and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Leak Seriously Jeopardized National Security - Fitzgerald tells reporters that the leaking of a CIA officer’s identity is a serious breach of national security. “This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter,” he says. “But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important.” Fitzgerald continues: “At a time when we need our spy agencies to have people work there, I think just the notion that someone’s identity could be compromised lightly… [discourages] our ability to recruit people and say, ‘Come work for us… come be trained… come work anonymously here or wherever else, go do jobs for the benefit of the country for which people will not thank you.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says: “Revealing the identity of a covert agent is the type of leak that gets people killed. Not only does it end the person’s career… it puts that person in grave personal danger as well as their colleagues and all the people they have had contact with.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 10/30/2005]
Charges Are Serious, Not 'Technicalities' - Responding to a question about Republican charges that Libby is being charged as a “technicality,” and Fitzgerald “overreached” his authority in filing the indictment, Fitzgerald says: “That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven… that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.… [T]he truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.… Any notion that anyone might have that there’s a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.… If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it’s a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005]
Explanation for Delay in Filing Indicitment - Fitzgerald gives one reason for the delay in filing the indictment against Libby. When asked why he went to such lengths to compel the testimony of reporters such as Miller (see September 30, 2005) and Cooper (see July 13, 2005), Fitzgerald replies that the rights of the accused are paramount in his mind. The testimony of Miller, Cooper, and other journalists could bolster the case against Libby, or could help exonerate him. The possibility that he might charge someone, only to learn later that one of the journalists who had declined to testify had information to clear the person, was something that “frightens me,” Fitzgerald says. “I think the only way you can do an investigation like this is to hear all eyewitnesses.” [New York Times, 10/28/2005; National Journal, 11/12/2005]
No Charges against Cheney - Asked whether the investigation found evidence of criminal acts by Cheney, Fitzgerald answers: “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act. We make no allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act. But as to any person you asked me a question about other than Mr. Libby, I’m not going to comment on anything.” Fitzgerald refuses to comment on whether White House political strategist Karl Rove or anyone else will be named as co-conspirators, charged, or even named in court. [New York Times, 10/28/2005]

Entity Tags: John Hannah, Judith Miller, John D. Rockefeller, John R. Bolton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jeralyn Merritt, Frederick Fleitz, Central Intelligence Agency, David S. Addington, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of State, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Former White House official Lewis Libby, facing criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for his involvement in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see October 28, 2005), joins the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank that focuses on foreign policy and national security. Libby is a senior fellow whose focus will be issues related to terrorism and Asia, and will also advise the institute on strategic planning. Other prominent conservatives who are members of the Hudson Institute are former Reagan administration Solicitor General Robert Bork (see October 19-20, 1973 and July 1-October 23, 1987), and former National Security Agency Director William Odom (see September 16, 2004). Libby will be paid a salary commensurate with his White House remuneration of $160,000. [Washington Post, 1/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Bork, Bush administration (43), Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, William Odom, Hudson Institute

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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