October 20, 1973
Claiming executive privilege, President Richard Nixon refused a subpoena by Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox (pictured above) for tapes made of staff conversations in the Oval Office. When Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox and abolish the special prosecutor’s office, Richardson refused and resigned in protest.
Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus did likewise, and the task was left to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who gave Cox his pink slip on a Saturday evening.
In July 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that such recordings were not privileged. Facing impeachment, Nixon announced his resignation on Aug. 8.
The events gave rise to the Independent Counsel Act, creating a truly independent process to investigate allegations of misconduct by government officials. The act survived a high court challenge in 1988, but was allowed to lapse by Congress in 1999.