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Oral History Excerpt | The Senate Watergate Committee Subpoenas White House Records

Image of Edmisten and Terry Lenzner Delivering the Watergate Subpoenas

Rufus Edmisten, Deputy Chief Counsel, Senate Watergate Committee

Interviewed by Kate Scott, Senate Historical Office, on September 8, 2011

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Rufus Edmisten recalls a historic car ride from the U.S. Capitol to the Executive Office Building to deliver the subpoenas to the president.


Edmisten: Yeah. I know that a subpoena is going to be issued. I simply told the senator, I said, “Senator, I want to deliver that subpoena down there.” Of course I beat everybody to it. I think he would have let me anyway. I took along with me a lady named Polly Demint. I decided that she would be a good one to go because she had worked for years over there at the Separation of Powers Subcommittee. Then Terry Lenzner decided he wanted to go and asked Sam Dash if he could go. It was fine with me. I don’t remember the sequence right now. The subpoena had to be prepared and I remember the old gal that typed it was named Lydia Greg. There were two of them. One was the subpoena dictus tatum, which means turn over all your papers and books or we’re going to take them. [Both laugh] That was for any number of White House officials. Since I have the original—or the University of North Carolina southern collection has the original—it has people for instance like John Dean, John Mitchell, Haldeman, Erlichman, Gordon Strong, you name it. It’s the cast of Watergate, the basic characters of Watergate and most of them were indicted and went to jail over it.

Then there was one that asked for the tapes. It was very sparse because they hadn’t identified—they were interested in just two or three things because at that time they had not thought to ask to turn over the entire shooting match. So it was just, on that subpoena it said, “On a certain date, so-and-so-and-so-and-so.” When that’s prepared and I don’t know whether that was the next day or what, after the phone call. I know that it was July 23, 1973, which this summer during this interview would have been 38 years ago. We alerted Lieutenant Blackstone, the man of Capitol Hill Police with whom I’d dealt so much, that I needed a ride to the White House. I guess the right word was phalanx of officers that I have several pictures of coming out of the corner of the Old Senate Office Building, which most directly faces Union Station, that basement area there. We get in the police car and by that time everyone in the press had their ways of knowing. There were several that followed us down Pennsylvania Avenue. There was no formal blowing of horns, or sirens, or this and that. But it reminded me of Biblical days, it just seemed like the street opened up. We got down there and it was the Executive Office Building and nearing dark. There were hordes of the press down there. Hordes. We had called ahead quite obviously to tell them that I was coming. Lenzner and Polly and I step out. I had the subpoena in my hand and I went through the—there’s a gate in front of the Executive Office Building—we went through that gate and we go up to the steps and we are met there by Professor Charles Allen Wright who was a consultant to Nixon at that time, and another man, Leonard Garment, who was a very prominent D.C. attorney and later in life became a law partner of Howard Baker. They were very cordial. I do my little spiel, “In response to Senate resolution so-and-so-and-so-and-so …” it was the resolution setting up the committee, “I hereby serve you with a subpoena. Would you take this back and make copies and please ask somebody to bring it back to us?”

I don’t know what—but the smart aleck in me come out. I had grabbed me one of those little blue copies of the Constitution that’s about three inches by four inches, the little pocket Constitution, and stuffed it in my back pocket. As a 31-year-old smart aleck would do, when I handed those subpoenas to Professor Charles Allen Wright and Leonard Garment, I said, “Here’s one of these too. You all might need one of these down here.” That was the snottiest thing that anybody could do. Here I am taking the subpoena down that I’m told is the first time in history that the Congress, a congressional committee, had ever subpoenaed a president. I thought, well, just give them a Constitution while I am at it. I came back to the fence and there was just absolutely full. I estimated that there were at least 100, 150 news people because this is a big day.

Read the entire interview.

Disclaimer: The Senate Historical Office has a strong commitment to oral history as an important part of its efforts to document institutional change over time. Oral histories are a natural component to historical research and enhance the archival holdings of the Senate and its members. Oral histories represent the personal recollections and opinions of the interviewees, however, and should not be considered as the official views or opinions of the U.S. Senate, of the Senate Historical Office, or of other senators and/or staff members. The transcripts of these oral histories are made available by the Senate Historical Office as a public service.