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Why people are calling the acting attorney general's firing the 'Monday Night Massacre'

On Monday evening, the White House released a statement saying acting Atty. Gen. Sally Yates had been fired for instructing Justice Department lawyers not to defend President Trump's travel ban.

Yates has "betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States," the White House said .

"Monday Night Massacre" was trending on Twitter within the hour.

The front page of the Los Angeles Times the morning after the "Saturday Night Massacre." (Los Angeles Times archives)
The front page of the Los Angeles Times the morning after the "Saturday Night Massacre." (Los Angeles Times archives)

In 1973, President Nixon ordered the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox because he wouldn't obey Nixon's order to stop looking into Watergate. Two of the Justice Department's top leaders resigned in protest rather than following Nixon's directive to fire Cox. It became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," an instance of the president using his power to punish political enemies within the Justice Department.

Though the Justice Department is part of the executive branch, it is traditionally largely independent from the office of the president in order to ensure the integrity of law enforcement and its investigations.

 (Steve Brodner / For The Times)
(Steve Brodner / For The Times)

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