Nixon Forces Firing of Cox; Richardson, Ruckelshaus Quit
Sunday, October 21, 1973
In the most traumatic government upheaval of the Watergate crisis, President Nixon yesterday discharged Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and accepted the resignations of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus.
The President also abolished the office of the special prosecutor and turned over to the Justice Department the entire responsibility for further investigation and prosecution of suspects and defendants in Watergate and related cases.
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."