Nixon promised high court vacancy to solicitor general, book says
By The Associated Press
Published: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 8:06 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Robert Bork said President Richard Nixon promised him the next Supreme Court vacancy after Bork complied with Nixon's order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973.
Bork's recollection of his role in the Saturday Night Massacre that culminated in Cox's firing is at the center of his slim memoir, “Saving Justice,” that is being published posthumously by Encounter Books. Bork died in December at 85.
Bork writes that he didn't know whether Nixon actually, though mistakenly, believed he retained the political clout to get someone confirmed to the Supreme Court or was just trying to secure Bork's continued loyalty as his administration crumbled in the Watergate scandal.
President Reagan nominated Bork to the high court in 1987. The nomination failed in the Senate.
Bork describes a surreal time in Washington as the Watergate scandal began to consume the government and the country, and a sense of paranoia prevailed.
Bork said that soon after his arrival in Washington in 1973, White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig tried to persuade him to resign as solicitor general to become Nixon's chief defense lawyer. Bork sought out good friend Alexander Bickel to discuss the offer. Rather than talk in-side Bork's home in McLean, Va., they walked along a dark, semi-rural road so that no one would overhear them.
Bork turned down the offer.
When Bork and Attorney General Eliot Richardson were called to the Oval Office to discuss plans to indict Vice President Spiro Agnew, the two men ducked into a restroom where Richardson turned on all the faucets so their conversation would not be picked up by electronic eavesdropping.
Most details about Bork's role on the tumultuous evening of October 20, 1973, immortalized as the Saturday Night Massacre, are well known.
Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Cox over the prosecutor's subpoena of White House tapes. Richardson resigned rather than carry out the order. The next in line, William Ruckelshaus, refused to fire Cox and was himself fired.
That left Bork, whose main job was arguing in front of the Supreme Court and who also was the third-ranking Justice Department official. Bork says his initial inclination was to fire Cox and then resign so as not to be seen as a White House toady. He says Richardson and Ruckelshaus encouraged him to stay on for the good of the Justice Department.
In the end, Bork served as acting Attorney General until January 1974, and stayed on as Solicitor General until January 1977. Nixon resigned in August 1974.
After Richardson and Ruckelshaus refused to carry out Nixon's order, the White House sent a car to the Justice Department to fetch Bork.
He met the car outside the department and found Nixon lawyers Leonard Garment and Fred Buzhardt in the passenger seats. Bork says he joked that he felt like he was being taken for a ride, as in a scene from a gangster movie, but that no one else laughed.
Shortly after he sent Cox a two-paragraph letter, he was taken in to see Nixon. Bork says the resignation and firings should have been called “The Saturday Night Involuntary Manslaughter” because Nixon didn't plan the episode, but blundered into it.
It was in that conversation that Bork says Nixon for the first and only time offered up the next Supreme Court seat.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- House OKs slashing contractor salary cap nearly in half; Senate likely to follow suit
- Boehner’s rant brings budget deal
- New wife pleads guilty in husband’s cliff death
- Fawcett bling tops Kelly’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ suit
- 52 unsafe bus lines closed in federal crackdown
- Bipartisan Senate bill would put kibosh on pricey portraits
- Mass. lawmaker takes seat, makes history
- Defense bill gets House OK, deals with sexual assault
- Veteran accused oflifting peers’ IDs
- Snowy owls travel south
- Secret Iran negotiations detailed