(CN) – In late October 1973, President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating Nixon’s potential role in the Watergate break-in. A Gallup poll taken afterward found the number of Americans who wanted Nixon impeached jumped dramatically.
The public reaction to what was called the Saturday Night Massacre, which resulted in Cox’s firing and the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus eerily parallels what’s happening today.
Faced with an investigation into possible improper contact between Russian and officials from his presidential campaign, President Donald Trump has toyed with the idea of firing special counsel Robert Mueller. If history is any indication, such a move might spell the end of his presidency and make him a liability to the Republican Party as it tries to maintain control of the U.S. House and Senate.
According to a Gallup poll taken during the firing of Cox on Oct. 20, 1973, 33 percent of Americans said they thought Nixon should be impeached and compelled to leave the presidency. That result was 10 points higher than the previous month, showing that Americans disapproved of Nixon’s action.
In a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, 46 percent of Americans said they think Trump should be impeached and removed from office if he fires Mueller. As it stands, a larger percentage of people now think the president should be impeached if he fires the special counsel compared with October 1973 when Nixon had already done so.
Trump, who already fired FBI Director James Comey last year, also wanted to fire Mueller this past June, according to a report by the New York Times. Unlike Nixon, whose approval rating often reached more than 60 percent, Trump’s approval ratings have struggled to rise above an average of 40 percent in the 13 months since he took office. Nixon, however, took a beating after the Saturday Night Massacre, dropping to a mere 27 percent approval rating.
Following the news of the Watergate break-in of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters, Nixon disassociated himself from aides and counsel who were implicated in the burglary. So too has Trump tried to downplay the roles played by former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.
Manafort was indicted by Mueller for allegedly laundering millions of dollars and Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. What’s worse for Trump is lack of credibility coming from both in and out of the White House. His press secretary Sarah Sanders said last fall that Papadopoulos “was somebody that played a minimal role.”
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and a part of the Trump transition team, recently said that Papadopoulos “never even had met with the president.”
That turned out to be incorrect, as then-candidate Trump tweeted a picture of Papadopoulos sitting in a meeting with Trump and others on March 31, 2016.
As Gallup pointed out, Americans in 1973 were no more forgiving of who the president allied with than they are today.
“I find it hard to believe that any honest person could allow himself to be surrounded by so many dishonest people,” a college student said in the 1973 poll.
Besides Papadopoulos and Manafort, Mueller has indicted Manfort’s deputy Rick Gates and former National Security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty to “willfully and knowingly” lying to the FBI, and has agreed to cooperate in the Mueller probe.