Memories of the Saturday Night Massacre

TPM Reader JO remembers Archibald Cox’s recollection of Robert Bork’s role in the Saturday Night Massacre, one of fabled moments of the Watergate drama …

The Bork story reminds me of a story Archibald Cox told an undergraduate class on Constitutional Law that I was lucky enough to take about 30 years ago. In the unit on executive privilege, Cox told us about the Saturday Night Massacre from his unique perspective — not only as the Special Prosecutor Bork fired, but as the law school professor whose former students refused to fire him. Here’s how I recall the way he told the story (not verbatim, but it captures the essence of it):

I got a call from Attorney General Richardson saying, “Professor, the President wants me to fire you.” So I said, “Well, Elliott, you do what you think is right.” And so Richardson resigned rather than fire me.

Then I got a call from Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus, who became Attorney General when Richardson resigned. And he said, “Professor, the President wants me to fire you.” So I said, “Well, Bill, you do what you think is right” — and he resigned, too.

Then I got a call from the next man in line at the Justice Department, Solicitor General Bork. He hadn’t been my student.

The whole class erupted in laughter at that point, but Cox cut us off. “Laugh now,” he said, “but just wait until you see Robert Bork nominated for the Supreme Court.”

In case you missed the news yesterday, in a posthumous memoir soon to be published, Bork confessed for the first time that Richard Nixon promised him a seat on the Supreme Court for firing Cox.

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