The Saturday Night Massacre almost didn’t happen. It was nearly averted because of the respect many had for Mississippi Senator John C. Stennis.
Nixon considered Stennis one of his “strongest and most dependable supporters in foreign affairs.” When he ordered the secret bombings of North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, Stennis was one of two members of Congress he informed. Stennis worked closely with Nixon, both due to his role as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, and because of personal rapport. After Stennis was shot in a robbery in January 1973, Nixon made an unannounced and unscheduled drop in to visit with him during his recovery.
In April of 1973 – just six months prior to the firing of Cox – Nixon and Stennis flew together on Air Force One to Mississippi to dedicate the John C. Stennis Training Center at Meridian. Alone in the President’s cabin, writes Nixon, Stennis gave him advice: “The time is now. We say down in our country that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Time is running out.”
Bob Haldeman, Nixon’s chief-of-staff, described in his own diary that Nixon shared that advice to his advisors with alarm: “[The President] feels time is running out…if the rain falls on people, they’ve got to go, whether they’re just or not.” Three days later, after returning from Mississippi, Nixon announced the resignation of Haldeman and John Ehrlichman during his first televised address about Watergate.