October 20

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Oct 20, 1973:

Watergate special prosecutor dismissed

Solicitor General Robert Bork dismisses Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox; Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus resign in protest. Cox had conducted a detailed investigation of the Watergate break-in that revealed that the burglary was just one of many possible abuses of power by the Nixon White House. Nixon had ordered Richardson to fire Cox, but he refused and resigned, as did Ruckelshaus when Nixon then asked him to dismiss the special prosecutor. Bork agreed to fire Cox and an immediate uproar ensued. This series of resignations and firings became known as the Saturday Night Massacre and outraged the public and the media. Two days later, the House Judiciary Committee began to look into the possible impeachment of Nixon.

The Watergate scandal involved the bungled burglary of the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 1972. It was eventually learned that the cover-up went all the way to the White House; President Nixon, facing impeachment, resigned from the presidency in August 1974. This had a major impact on the situation in Vietnam. Nixon had convinced President Nguyen Van Thieu to consent to the provisions of the Paris peace accords by personally promising (on more than 30 occasions) that the United States would re-enter the conflict if the North Vietnamese violated the peace agreement. However, Nixon's successor, Gerald R. Ford, was not able to keep Nixon's promises because he could not, despite Thieu's desperate pleas for help, get Congress to appropriate significant funds to help the South Vietnamese. Having lost its sole source of aid and support, South Vietnam fell in April 1975.

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