An Example Worth Following

Archibald Cox and the Rule of Law

Posted by Dale Eisman on May 10, 2017

Amid the chaos surrounding President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow served up a bit of helpful perspective.

Maddow opened her nightly report by recounting President Richard Nixon’s long campaign to derail investigations of the Watergate cover-up. What finally brought Nixon down was the persistence of a dogged prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who defied the president’s wishes by subpoenaing tape recordings of Oval Office meetings in which Nixon and his top aides discussed the cover-up.

Cox’s work got him fired in October 1973, in what quickly became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. “Archibald Cox. Yeah, he did get fired…” Maddow said. “But you know what? He got the president fired too. He is the reason those damning tapes ultimately got released,” on orders from the Supreme Court. And three days after the release, on Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon resigned.

Cox went on to become national chairman of Common Cause, a post he held from 1980-92. His tenure was marked by the organization’s successful campaigns in support of extending the Voting Rights Act in 1982 and passing the Ethics in Government Act in 1989.  Cox also was serving as Common Cause chair in 1987, when the organization helped persuade senators to defeat the nomination of Robert Bork, who had fired Cox on orders from Nixon, for the Supreme Court.

“So, fire the investigators? Yeah, Nixon proved you can do that,” Maddow said. “But Nixon also proved the consequences of doing that, in the end, for a president who has something to hide.”

For the millions of us distraught today at Trump’s action and worried about what it means for the rule of law, the Cox story provides a needed bit of comfort. Our system of laws is still in place; we must insist that the people we’ve entrusted to make it work follow Cox’s example.



Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Ethics

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