Commentators mostly agree: Firing Comey was positively Nixonian

President Richard Nixon
President Nixon at a March 1973 news conference announcing that he will not allow his legal counsel, John Dean, to testify in the Watergate investigation. (Photo: Charles Tasnadi/AP)

For many, the news that President Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey evoked memories of former President Richard Nixon.

“This is nothing less than Nixonian,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., of the president’s decision dismiss Comey, who was leading an ongoing investigation into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russian agents to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Comey’s firing was “shocking” and “bizarre” and “raises troubling questions about the president’s motivations.”

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., echoed Leahy’s comments, also referring to Trump’s actions as “Nixonian” and calling for the immediate appointment of a special prosecutor to continue the Russia investigation.

Of course, as the Twitter account for the Richard Nixon Library was quick to note, Nixon never fired a director of the FBI.

But that detail hardly prevented “Nixonian” from quickly climbing Twitter’s list of trending terms Tuesday night, as many compared Comey’s unexpected ouster to the 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor overseeing the Watergate investigation. That, in turn, prompted the resignations of then Attorney General Elliot Richardson and then Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.

Archibald Cox
Independent prosecutor Archibald Cox at the time of the Nixon-era “Saturday night massacre,” October 20, 1973. (Photo: John Duricka/AP)

“This is an investigator who is investigating the White House, and he was just fired by the White House,” said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. This doesn’t happen in the United States, except on October 20, 1973, when Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox.”

Recent Nixon biographer John Aloysius Farrell agreed, tweeting: “Tuesday night Massacre. We know why Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox: the president was guilty of obstruction of justice.”

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