PERSPECTIVE: Comey sacking doesn’t rise to Watergate levels.
Nixon was fighting a pitched battle with Archibald Cox and the courts.
Cox, a Harvard professor who had been appointed as special prosecutor in May that year, had issued a subpoena ordering the White House to hand over nine tapes of phone calls and West Wing conversations in connection with the Watergate break-in. Nixon’s legal team argued the principle of executive privilege should apply, and the tapes should remain private.
On 12 October, however, the Court of Appeals in Washington upheld a lower court’s ruling granting Cox’s request. Rather than comply, Nixon decided to fire the special prosecutor, something his Attorney General Elliot Richardson had promised Congress would never happen.
A president stood in defiance of the courts, putting himself above the law of the land. It was a textbook constitutional crisis.
Donald Trump’s sacking of his FBI director, while highly unusual and deeply controversial, is constitutionally permissible. No court orders have been flouted. The president, while breaking with the norm of allowing FBI directors to serve out their 10-year terms unimpeded, is not putting himself above the law.