The long road to Ted Cruz, Fox News, the Tea Party and right-wing insanity has its roots in the events of 1973
If you take the long view of Washington’s ungovernability — and when you’re as old as I am and live on the other side of the Atlantic as I do, the long view is all you’ve got — you have a particular insight as to how we got here.
Much of the problem can be traced back to events that took place exactly 40 years ago (Oct. 20, 1973): the Saturday Night Massacre, a major turning point of the Watergate scandal.
The next day, banner headlines across the entire front page of The New York Times read:
NIXON DISCHARGES COX FOR DEFIANCE;
ABOLISHES WATERGATE TASK FORCE
RICHARDSON AND RUCKLESHAUS OUT
It took a helluva lot to get that kind of coverage that autumn.
While Americans went about their weekend business, while the October war in the Middle East rumbled along, a mere 10 days after his vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned over charges of tax evasion, President Richard M. Nixon raised the stakes in his fight to keep the truth about his involvement in the scandal and its subsequent cover-up secret.
It’s tough to summarize all the events of Watergate, from burglary to the president’s resignation. Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men” is 349 pages long and I’m sure both of them still agonize over what they had to leave out. But the narrative’s main turning points were on legal ideas related to executive privilege and judicial independence in the Constitution and the statutes and case law that underpin these ideas.
A recap of events for those who have forgotten — or never learned:
In May of 1973, Archibald Cox, a law professor at Harvard, was appointed “special prosecutor” to independently look into the Watergate scandal. The appointment was made by Attorney General Eliot Richardson, himself a Harvard man, who had only just taken up the attorney general post, following the resignation — because of Watergate — of Richard Kleindienst, another Harvard law graduate.
Richardson had pledged in his confirmation hearings to give the special prosecutor complete independence — including subpoena power — to follow the evidence wherever it led. A few months later it led to the Oval Office when it was revealed in a Senate hearing on Watergate that Nixon was recording all conversations there. Cox issued a subpoena demanding that Nixon turn over the tapes. Claiming executive privilege, Nixon refused and offered a compromise: a Republican senator would listen to the tapes and provide a summary. Cox turned down the offer and stood by his subpoena power.