The Saturday Night Massacre

After President Trump hinted at the possibility of dismissing Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, the first thing that came to my mind is The Saturday Night Massacre, that unforgettable historical night when President Richard Nixon took a risk by dismissing the special prosecutor in the Watergate case, Archibald Cox.

It was not a wise step at all especially that Nixon was going through difficult times. The reason behind the firing was that Cox asked Nixon to hand over the recording of his talks at the Oval Office. These talks contained all the secret conversations of the president, including the incriminating evidence in the Watergate case.

Disgraced presidency

Nixon was not an ordinary president. This politician who came from California did not come from a rich or prestigious family, as is the case with most American politicians. He belonged to a middle class family and has once said that the most beautiful thing in his childhood was that his family was “poor, but the glory of it was we didn't know it.” Nixon managed his way in getting elected to the House of Representatives and later to the Senate.

Trump does not have the authority to remove Mueller, but he can ask Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein who appointed Mueller to do so

Dr Ahmad al-Farraj

President General Dwight Eisenhower then selected him to be his vice president. They worked together in harmony throughout the Eisenhower presidency (1953-1961). In 1972, Nixon was elected president and was re-elected in 1974. He resigned under the pressure of Watergate scandal, in which the Republican Party spied on the Democratic Party’s offices. Nixon suffered a tough time until his death; as he is the only president who resigned.

When the special counselor asked President Nixon to hand over the recordings, the latter refused. One of the complexities and strengths of the US justice system is that the president, who nominates the attorney general (who heads the department of justice) and who can sack him, cannot legally dismiss the special counselor.

Will Trump be like Nixon?

This is where Nixon’s tragedy began. Then came the circumstances surrounding the Saturday Night Massacre on 20th of October 1973 which led to his ‘overthrow’. That night, Nixon asked US Attorney General Elliot Richardson to dismiss Cox but he refused and resigned in protest. Then Nixon asked Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox but he also refused and resigned.

Nixon then asked the third-most-senior official at the Justice Department Robert Bork to dismiss Cox and he agreed. However, the public opinion went against Nixon and people accused him of obstruction of justice, eventually leading to his resignation!

From here we can understand the seriousness of what Trump hinted, i.e. his intention to dismiss Mueller. Trump does not have the authority to remove Mueller, but he can ask Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who appointed Mueller to do so. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who heads the Department of Justice) has already stepped out of this case due to his expected bias to Trump.

Observers believe that Trump might face a fate similar to Nixon’s if he takes the decision to dismiss Mueller. We may witness a similar political massacre, similar to the Saturday Night Massacre, which ‘overthrew’ Nixon. Let’s wait and see!

This article is also available in Arabic.

Dr. Ahmad al-Farraj is a Saudi writer with al-Jazirah daily. He holds a Masters degree in literature from the University of Indiana and a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Michigan. He was the Dean of the Arabic Language Institute in King Saud University and a member of the university’s council. He tweets under @amhfarraj.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 14:02 - GMT 11:02
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