WASHINGTON -- William Ruckelshaus, a key figure in the 'Saturday Night Massacre' of 1973, says Watergate might never have erupted into a major political scandal if President Nixon had quickly fired the campaign officials involved in illegal activities.
Ruckelshaus, now administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned as deputy attorney general in what came to be known as the 'Saturday Night Massacre' of October 1973, when he refused Nixon's order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.
Ruckelshaus resigned minutes after Nixon fired Attorney General Elliot Richardson for refusing to oust Cox. The EPA chief has never spoken to Nixon since the incident more than a decade ago.
'I haven't talked to him since he gave me the blade,' he said Wednesday during an interview with reporters of United Press International, Reuters and The Associated Press.
Ruckelshaus was asked about Nixon's televised interview on CBS this week, in which the former president discussed the Watergate scandal that forced his 1974 resignation.
Nixon 'put his finger on the problem in that interview -- namely, he didn't take decisive action the minute it was apparent what had happened,' Ruckelshaus said. 'Had he done that, I don't think there ever would have been a Watergate in the sense that we now understand it.'
The scandal began with a June 1972 break-in at Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate office-hotel complex in Washington. The illegal entry was authorized by officials of Nixon's re-election campaign.
Ruckelshaus said Nixon should have quickly determined 'who was responsible for what happened, and then should have told them, 'That's not the way in which we're going to operate the campaign and you're out of here.''
The EPA chief also said he doubts Nixon would have been able to run his own campaign in 1972. Nixon said in the interviews the break-in never would have happened if he had been running the campaign as he did in his previous races.
In 1972, Nixon said, he delegated authority to officials who ultimately became embroiled in the scandal.
'I don't know if it would have been possible for him to run that campaign at the same time he was the president,' said Ruckelshaus. 'So I don't think that is the problem.'