Edmisten recalls Watergate as Senate impeachment trial of Trump begins

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Before Rufus Edmisten became North Carolina’s attorney general and secretary of state – he served as the deputy chief counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee.

“Here I was a barefoot boy from the mountains of North Carolina and I had no idea that this would come down to serving a subpoena on a president for the first time in history by a committee of the Congress and had no idea how important this was,” said Edmisten.

When it came time to subpoena the White House, it was Edmisten who delivered the order.

He remembers it vividly but, also with a little humor.

“Nobody knew the procedure because it had never been done and so I studied up on how to deliver a subpoena, was ushered down there by the Capitol Hill police and my mother said, ‘well, at least you were in the backseat of police car this time for a good reason,'” he said.

Edmisten said the committee received tens of thousands of pieces of mail in support of the process.

“It’s the first time in history that a subpoena had been served on a president and it has a list of all the characters that were around the president including John Mitchell, John Dean and over two-thirds of all the people on that list went to jail for lying to the Watergate Committee,” said Edmisten, as he showed CBS 17 the subpoenas for both witnesses and the Nixon tapes.

The same tapes that would eventually lead to President Nixon’s resignation.

“The biggest complaint we got from people was they missed their soap operas. And my little niece wrote me one time and said, ‘Uncle Rufus, I hate Watergate because it’s taking away my cartoons.’ I said, ‘Lisa, there’s not much I can do about that right now but maybe it’ll end sometime.’ And did it end with a bang.”

Both subpoenas are now safely stored in Edmisten’s Raleigh office.

He said North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin took complete charge of the investigation.  

“And Ervin was so respected that when he would speak – they would listen. All though they might not agree in the Nixon administration, they knew that he meant business. One time he said if they do not obey this subpoena I will send the Sergeant of Arms down to arrest them and lock them up in the basement of the Capitol,” said Edmisten.

Edmisten has some advice as the Senate trial of President Donald John Trump begins.

“I think both sides need to quiet down and run this thing like a trial and stop all the press briefings, that way nobody’s going to be convinced to change their mind when they use that kind of reasoning.”

 He said the American people deserve better.  

“Impeachment and the trial process under the Constitution are inherently a political process but they have to have a little bit of semblance of law about it to make it orderly and make it believable for the American public.”

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