Reading the news Tuesday morning, you may have come across to one or two references to something called the Monday Night Massacre. Maybe you’ve seen #MondayNightMassacre trending on Twitter and wondered who was being killed.
While the term sounds sinister, it’s actually a historical reference to President Richard Nixon’s 1973 dismissal of Archibald Cox, who had acted as an independent special prosecutor to investigate the events surrounding the Watergate scandal. As a result, the attorney general at the time Elliot Richardson and his deputy general William Ruckelshaus both resigned—hence the “massacre” part.
Political commentators have been drawing parallels between Nixon’s dismissal of Cox—which happened after the prosecutor subpoenaed the president, asking for copies of taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office—and Trump’s firing of Sally Yates, who until recently was acting as the U.S. attorney general. Yates’s ouster took place the same day that she wrote a letter in defiance to President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
On Monday, Yates sent a letter to top lawyers in the U.S. Justice Department with instructions not to defend the order, which was issued Friday and suspended the entry of all refugees to the United States for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and blocked U.S. entry for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries for at least 90 days.
“I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right,” Yates wrote. “At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.”
The White House criticized Yates, saying she had “betrayed” the department by refusing to enforce a “legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.” She was replaced by Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, who immediately rescinded Yates’s order to the department. He is expected to hold the post until Sen. Jeff Sessions is confirmed.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) drew the parallel between Trump and Nixon during an impromptu speech Monday evening, noting that Yates was fired for not cooperating with the president, as Cox was.
“We’ve had a number, a large number of eloquent speeches about the president’s executive order. And while they were going on, of course, we had a ‘Monday Night Massacre,'” he said. “Sally Yates, a person of great integrity, who follows the law, was fired by the president. She was fired because she would not enact, pursue the executive order on the belief that it was illegal, perhaps unconstitutional.”
A number of social media users and pundits also picked up on the reference, likening the two Republicans:
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However, others see a distinction between the two acts. Journalist Carl Bernstein said on CNN Monday that “there’s a big difference” between what Trump and Nixon did and that Trump is “within his rights” to fire Yates. Unlike his predecessor, Trump is not under investigation and is not obstructing justice. However, Bernstein noted, he has “obstructed American principles.”