RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Five decades ago, a young lawyer from the Appalachian mountains found himself in the middle of what would change the course of American history.

Rufus Edmisten would later go on to become North Carolina’s attorney general and secretary of state.

Edmisten recalled the words of John Dean, counsel to Richard Nixon, that would eventually bring down the president of the United States.

“John Dean had just testified before the committee for three days saying that the president was up to his eyebrows in the Watergate thing. And of course from the White House, they said no he’s a liar. He’s crazy, no such thing. Nixon had just won a landslide election in 1972, and the discovery of those tapes would tell whether or not John Dean was telling the truth,” said Edmisten.

Edmisten recently sat down CBS 17’s Russ Bowen in his Raleigh law office.

The soon-to-be 81-year-old’s office is filled with scrapbooks, pictures with presidents, copies of Watergate subpoenas and memorabilia of his career in politics.

North Carolina U.S. Sen Sam Ervin was the chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee and chose Edmisten to be his deputy chief counsel.

The committee was investigating the break-in of the DNC headquarters in the Watergate Office Building and any involvement Nixon may have had in it.

June 17 will be the 50th anniversary of the break-in.

FILE – In this May 18, 1973, file photo, the hearing of the Senate select committee on the Watergate case on Capitol Hill in Washington. In 1973, millions of Americans tuned in to what Variety called “the hottest daytime soap opera” _ the Senate Watergate hearings that eventually led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. For multiple reasons, notably a transformed media landscape, there’s unlikely to be a similar communal experience when the House impeachment inquiry targeting Donald Trump goes on national television starting Nov. 13, 2019. (AP Photo)

After John Dean’s testimony, Ervin said they needed to first ask the president if he would give the committee the taped recordings of Nixon’s meetings in the White House.

There was a bit of humor in that very serious moment.

Edmisten said “all of a sudden he turned to me. He said ‘Rufus, go get the president on the phone,’ like go get a loaf of bread. I thought, ‘well OK.’ I knew the number to the White House and I rang it up and Ms. Rosemary Wood answered the phone, I knew it went to her – she was the president’s secretary. I said ‘Ms. Wood, this is deputy chief council Rufus Edmisten of the Watergate Committee and Sen. Ervin would like to speak to the president.’ And she said, “hold on, I’ll be back.’ All of a sudden this voice comes on the telephone ‘Senator, this is Richard Nixon’ I thought, ‘my God I didn’t expect the President.’ And for some unconscious crazy reason, I blurted out ‘Mr. President Senator Ervin wants to get you on the phone.’ Oh my gosh, I thought I will never get over this as long as I live.”

Nixon did not agree to release the tapes.

“There in about 10 minutes, the committee decided by a vote that they would subpoena the president of the United States for the first time in history from a committee of the Congress,” said Edmisten.

It was Edmisten who hand-delivered that subpoena to the Executive Office Building across the street from the White House.

“I did a little tricky thing that day, a little mischief in me I guess. I had one of those little pocket-sized Constitutions, oh about this big in my hip pocket and when I delivered the subpoena I just sort of automatically reached in my back pocket and pulled out that Constitution and said ‘I heard it said that you need one of those down here, too,'” Edmisten remembered.

It took a unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to get the tapes released.

They revealed Nixon approved of the cover-up.

They also exposed just how far Nixon was willing to go.

“If you could really dig deep in Nixon’s mind and say, OK, what is it you crave and like about public life so much that if he were to tell the truth he ‘d say ‘I get to punish my enemies.’ That’s throughout the tapes, it was throughout the Watergate hearings, his enemies list and the press was his most hated enemy,” Edmisten said.

Nixon fought the subpoena.

In the end, 48 people involved in the Watergate scandal were convicted.

Nixon was told by fellow Republicans he would be impeached and convicted.

To avoid that, Nixon resigned.

Part of Nixon’s problem, Edmisten believes, was those who were around him.

“And they gave him the worst advice that could ever be to any President. If in the early stages if he’d gone before the American public and said look I’ve got some folks who did some very stupid things. I want to apologize for it. the American people are very forgiving. He might have survived and probably would have gone down as one of the better presidents. He probably would have survived were it not for the stupidity of those surrounding him.”