What Was the Saturday Night Massacre, and Why It's Being Compared to Trump's Firing of Comey

Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey was compared by many to the infamous Saturday Night Massacre of the Nixon presidency

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In this April 17, 1973 file photo, President Richard Nixon speaks during White House news briefing in Washington.
President Richard Nixon: Trump's firing of FBI director James Comey, in charge of the investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia, has been likened to the Saturday Night Massacre.Credit: Henry Burroughs/AP

Shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey, speculation arose that the dismissal was motivated not by the ostensible reason – that the FBI director mishandled the probe into Hillary Clinton during the election – but because Comey was in charge of the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. 

The dramatic turn of events took Washington by surprise, and many commentators and lawmakers compared the firing to the Nixon Presidency's Saturday Night Massacre, one of the most sordid moments in White House history.

The events of the Saturday Night Massacre transpired on October 20, 1973, in the midst of the Watergate Scandal. Independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who had been appointed to investigate the events surrounding the Watergate break-in, had issued a subpoena to President Richard Nixon, demanding copies of taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office. 

>> READ IN FULL: Trump's letter to Comey informing him of his termination as FBI chief >>

Nixon refused to comply, and offered instead to have Senator John C. Stennis – who was hard of hearing - summarize the tapes for Cox. Cox refused the compromise, and on the next day Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. 

But Richardson refused, and resigned in protest. 

Nixon then turned to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus with the same demand. But Ruckelshaus also refused and resigned. 

Nixon then brought in Solicitor General Robert Bork to the White House, where he was sworn in as Acting Attorney General. Bork then proceeded to write the letter firing Cox, per Nixon's demand. 

The events of the night roiled the United States, rattling the president's already shaky approval rating, and have been known as the Saturday Night Massacre since. 

Cox was eventually replaced by a second special prosecutor, who managed to obtain the Oval Office tapes. Facing impeachment, Nixon resigned less than a year later.

Meanwhile, in the present, the Nixon Library was not too pleased with the comparisons between its namesake and Trump, tweeting: "FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI."