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Rufus Edmisten Reflects On Role In Watergate Hearings

Posted June 18, 2002

— President Richard Nixon called it a "third-rate burglary." Democrats said it was a travesty. Thirty years ago, the Watergate break-in took place and within two years, Nixon would resign.

Nixon's resignation did not come before explosive hearings before a Senate committee with strong North Carolina ties.

Right in the middle of this history-making time was a young man from Boone.

"This was a very momentous time in history. It was a special time and I was just full of it," said Rufus Edmisten.

Before he was North Carolina's Attorney General and Secretary of State, and a friend of President Clinton, Edmisten worked for North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin.

When Ervin, commonly known as "Senator Sam," chaired the Senate Watergate Committee, Edmisten was constantly by his side.

In his office, there are hundreds of reminders.

"[Bob] Haldeman said something like 'What do you mean?' And Senator Ervin said 'That's English. That's my mother's tongue. That's what I meant.' I remember that day very well, because he just couldn't believe it," Edmisten said.

Something else that was hard to believe is that Edmisten, at age 28, was to deliver the subpoena to Nixon.

The names on the typewritten document, complete with white-out, read like a history book: Dwight Chapin, Chuck Colson, John Dean and Haldeman.

Edmisten admits being nervous.

"There must have been 400 reporters there that day. The Capitol police formed a wedge on Pennsylvania Avenue as I left and escorted me down there," he said.

Thirty years after the Watergate break-in, Edmisten said he remembers that time as if it were yesterday.

However, in the midst of his mementos are his own ghosts. Edmisten resigned as North Carolina Secretary of State after a lengthy and messy audit.

Edmisten said he understands just a touch of what Nixon must have felt.

"Smart people sometimes do dumb things," said Edmisten pointing to himself.

Edmisten also said the pardon of Nixon by President Gerald Ford was the right thing to do. He said his opinion, at the time, was the minority view among Democrats.

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