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Saturday Night Massacre: President Nixon fires Cox; Richardson resigns

President Nixon is pictured with Chief-of-Staff Alexander Haig (R) and Secretary of state Henry Kissinger (L) at the White House on October 25, 1973. Nixon conferred with Haig before he made his decision to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Photo by Frank Cancellare/UPI
President Nixon is pictured with Chief-of-Staff Alexander Haig (R) and Secretary of state Henry Kissinger (L) at the White House on October 25, 1973. Nixon conferred with Haig before he made his decision to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Photo by Frank Cancellare/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 1973 (UPI) -- President Nixon accepted Atty. Gen. Elliot L. Richardson's resignation last night and fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox and Deputy Atty. General William D. Ruckelshaus in a stunning collapse of his attempt at a political compromise of the Watergate controversy.

Mr. Nixon also abolished the office of special Watergate prosecutor.

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A terse White House announcement said Robert Bork recently names solicitor general was now the acting attorney general.

Fired for Refusal

Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler said the President dismissed Cox for his refusal to comply with orders not to push for legal action to obtain Watergate-related presidential tapes, notes and memoranda.

Richardson resigned when he learned of Mr. Nixons decision and who holds the No. 2 position in the Justice Department was fired when he refused to dismiss Cox.

The actual dismissal of Cox as carried out by Bork who received instructions from the President to do so.

Ziegler said the office of the special prosecutor in the Watergate case was abolished as of 8p.m. EDT last night and "its canton will be transferred back into the institutional framework of the Department of Justice where it will be carried forward with thoroughness and vigor."

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Mr. Nixon also ordered the FBI to surround the office building five blocks from the White House where Cox and his prosecuting team once worked. A growing number of congressmen and senators said publicly it was time to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President.

Cox spokesman James Doyle said the heads of the five task forces in the special prosecutor's office had taken copies of their prospective memos - the status of pending cases - away from the office for safekeeping Friday night.

Evidence Lost

"I don't think they anticipated anything," he said "We're just dealing with a bunch of superstitious people. W had been getting what looked like threatening letters."

But Doyle said the offices still contained "an enormous amount of information that has not been presented to any grand jury anywhere" that now was lost to Cox staffers because of the FBI guards.

Reportedly on orders from the President, FBI agents surrounded a commercial building five blocks from the White House where Cox had rented two floors of office space for his staff, and blocked his former employees from entering.

FBI agents reportedly said they had orders from their chief, passed down from the White House, to seal Cox's offices and forbid anyone to remove anything.

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A White House official who declined to be identified could not say whether Mr. Nixon insulted any member of Congress before he ordered Cox fired.

He did say that Mr. Nixon conferred with White House Chief of Staff Alexander M. Haig, counselors Bryce Harlow and Melvin R Lard, and Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler before he made his decision.

"No Choice"

The White House made public an exchange of letters between Richardson and Mr. Nixon in which Richardson said that "circumstances leave me no alternative" but to resign. Ziegler said Richardson submitted his resignation during a half-hour meeting with Mr. Nixon shortly after 4p.m.

Richardson's letter said that throughout the Senate hearings on his confirmation as attorney general, he pledged to assure the independence of the special prosecutor and his authority to contest the President's assertions of executive privilege in withholding evidence in the Watergate case.

"While I fully respect the reasons that have led you to conclude that the special prosecutor must be discharged, I trust that you understand that I could not in the light of these firm and repeated commitments carry out your direction that this be done," Richardson's letter said.

"In the circumstances, therefore, I have no choice but to resign."

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"Accept Resignation"

The President's response to Richardson was terse.

"It is with the deepest regret and with an understanding of the circumstances which brought you to your decision that I accept your resignation," he replied.

In his letter to Bork, Mr. Nixon directed him "to discharge Mr. Cox immediately and to take all steps necessary to return to the Department of Justice the functions now being performed by the Watergate special prosecution force."

He said Cox had made it apparent at his news conference earlier in the day that he would not comply with Mr. Nixon's instructions to halt legal moves to obtain the Watergate tapes for a Federal Grand Jury.

"Clearly," Mr. Nixon said, "the government of the United States cannot function if the employees of the executive branch are free to ignore in this fashion the instructions of the President."

Richardson had no immediate comment for reporters, but Coz said: "Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress, and ultimately the American people to decide."

The White House statement followed Cox's announcement at a midday news conference that he would defy Mr. Nixon's order to halt court action to obtain the tapes and would go to court next week to seek a possible contempt proceeding against the President.

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Cox held an extraordinary, hour-long news conference televised live from the National Press Club ballroom to protest Mr. Nixon's order that he stop all court efforts to obtain the tapes for the Federal Grand Jury investigating the Watergate scandal.

A Justice Department spokesperson said Richardson had authorized him to say the attorney general "did not agree with the President's order to Cox to cease legal efforts to get the tapes."

Tell of Frustration

Cox complained at his news conference of "repeated frustration" since he began work last June in his attempts to get evidence voluntarily from the White House.

But, speaking in professorial and almost apologetic tones, the former U.S. solicitor general said he would betray his promises to the Senate and the American people if he did not persist in his battle for the actual tapes and the other documents.

He disclosed that among the evidence he has subpoenaed, "I have reason to believe" that Mr. Nixon personally dictated a memorandum about his Sept. 15 1072, netting with then White House counsel John W. Dean III, a crucial meeting which also was taped recorded.

Memo Dictated

It was during the Sept. 13 meeting that Dean has told the Senate Watergate Committee that he became convinced Mr. Nixon knew of efforts by his aides to cover up the Watergate break-in.

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Informed sources close to the White House said yesterday that Mr. Nixon's proposed summary of the Watergate tapes "will not support Dean - they will cut the ground from beneath him."

During his news conference, Cox suggested there might also be a record of a Nixon meeting with G. Gordon Liddy, one of the seven convicted Watergate conspirators, but complained that Mr. Nixon's compromise solution to the tapes controversy would rule out any access to written presidential papers.

Release Letters

Cox released an exchange of letters which showed that Richardson had proposed Wednesday giving a distinguishes outsider the full subpoenaed taped and a verbatim transcript, omitting only non-pertinent conversations. The "verifier" would check the transcript against the tapes, censor "embarrassing" language or references to national defense or foreign relations he decided would be harmful to disclose and submit the transcript to the court, according to Richardson's plan.

In contrast to Mr. Nixon's plan, Richardson did not propose involving the Senate Watergate Committee and made no mention of an order for Cox to cease all court efforts to obtain the tapes, which Cox said yesterday were essential to introduce as evidence at any subsequent criminal trial.

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