Shortly after the White House announcement, FBI agents sealed off the offices of Richardson and Ruckelshaus in the Justice Department and at Cox’s headquarters in an office building on K Street NW.
An FBI spokesman said the agents moved in “at the request of the White House.”
Agents told staff members in Cox’s office they would be allowed to take out only personal papers. A Justice Department official said the FBI agents and building guards at Richardson’s and Ruckelshaus’ offices were there “to be sure that nothing was taken out.”
Richardson resigned when Mr. Nixon instructed him to fire Cox and Richardson refused. When the President then asked Ruckelshaus to dismiss Cox, he refused, White House spokesman Ronald L. Ziegler said, and he was fired. Ruckelshaus said he resigned.
Finally, the President turned to Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, who by law becomes acting Attorney General when the Attorney General and deputy attorney general are absent, and he carried out the President’s order to fire Cox. The letter from the President to Bork also said Ruckelshaus resigned.
These dramatic developments were announced at the White House at 8:25 p.m. after Cox had refused to accept or comply with the terms of an agreement worked out by the President and the Senate Watergate committee under which summarized material from the White House Watergate tapes would be turned over to Cox and the Senate committee.
In announcing the plan Friday night, the President ordered Cox to make no further effort to obtain tapes or other presidential documents.
Cox responded that he could not comply with the President’s instructions and elaborated on his refusal and vowed to pursue the tape recordings at a televised news conference yesterday.
That set in motion the chain of events that resulted in the departure of Cox and the two top officials of the Justice Department and immediately raised prospects that the President himself might be impeached or forced to resign.
In a statement last night, Cox said: “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.”
The action raised new questions as to whether Congress would proceed to confirm House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford of Michigan to be Vice President or leave Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-Okla.) next in line of succession to the highest office in the land.
Richardson met at the White House in the late afternoon with Mr. Nixon and at 8:25 p.m. Ziegler appeared in the White House press room to read a statement outlining the President’s decisions.