Robert Bork is dead and George Will is working overtime to make him look a lot better than the facts could possibly justify. In a recent Washington Post column, Will credulously repeats Bork’s absurd claim that by firing the special prosecutor during Watergate he was “protecting” the investigation of Nixon’s crimes.
On an October Saturday, when Nixon ordered Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, Richardson and his deputy resigned, urging Bork to execute Nixon’s lawful order, which he did. By the two resignations, Bork became acting attorney general, in which capacity he protected the ongoing investigation of Nixon…
Nixon, born 100 years ago in January, is remembered for large diplomatic, as well as criminal, deeds. Agnew is deservedly forgotten. Bork deserves to be remembered by a grateful nation for the services he rendered in preventing disarray in the Justice Department at a moment of unprecedented assault on the rule of law, and for facilitating the removal of a president during Washington days that were darker than most people today can imagine.
By Will’s (and Bork’s) bizarre reasoning, firing the prosecutor investigating Nixon’s crimes, he was preventing an “unprecedented assault on the rule of law” and “protecting” the investigation. In the real world, Bork was actively assaulting the rule of law and trying to eliminate the investigation to protect a criminal in the White House. Richard Ben-Veniste, who was the chief investigator in the special prosecutor’s office at the time, corrects this ridiculous bit of historical fiction:
Bork’s assertion that by firing Cox he acted to protect the ongoing investigation of Watergate crimes is akin to the Army major’s claim during the Vietnam War that “it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.” Secret recordings reveal that well before the controversy surrounding the subpoenaed White House tapes, Nixon discussed with his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, his intention to fire Cox. This was part and parcel of the president’s continuing effort to obstruct the Watergate investigation.
Bork, recently arrived from the Yale Law School faculty, lent his academic credibility to the attempt to justify the firing — which federal judge Gerhard Gesell later ruled was plainly illegal, as Cox could be fired only for “extraordinary impropriety.” (Bork later stipulated that Cox had committed no such impropriety.) The grateful president, Bork recently wrote, promised to nominate him to the Supreme Court upon the next vacancy…
Indeed, far from championing an independent investigation that would allow recourse to the judicial process, Bork signed an order on Oct. 23, 1973 — three days after firing Cox — abolishing the Office of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.
Bork was a liar. And Will is either lying or playing pretend.