Charlotte Talks: Rufus Edmisten Reflects On Watergate, NC Politics, And How BBQ Tipped An Election

Jun 18, 2019

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Rufus Edmisten, right, served as deputy chief counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee, chaired by North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin.
Credit Rufus Edmisten / Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

After having a front row seat to Watergate, Rufus Edmisten began a political path that was supposed to take him to the governor's mansion. But Ronald Reagan's coattails - and perhaps a comment about BBQ - kept the brass ring out of his reach. Edmisten looks back at his time in politics in his new book, and he does the same in a conversation with guest host Michael Bitzer.

Subpoenas are flying left and right in Washington these days, but it was historic in the summer of 1973 when the Senate Watergate Committee issued one for President Nixon's Oval Office tapes.

The job of delivering the subpoena to the White House fell to Rufus Edmisten, a 32-year-old North Carolina lawyer who served as the Watergate panel's deputy chief counsel.

Edmisten, center, made national headlines when he delivered the Senate Watergate Committee's subpoena to the White House.

Along with the subpoena, Edmisten handed Nixon attorneys a small copy of the Constitution. "When I handed those subpoenas... I said here's one of these, too. Y'all might need one of these down here," Edmisten recalled.

After the dust of Watergate settled, Edmisten returned to North Carolina to run for state attorney general, a job he then held until 1984, when he successfully sought to become governor. 

Described as one of the most colorful figures in North Carolina political history, Edmisten reflects on his lengthy career in his book, "That's Rufus: A Memoir of Tar Heel Politics, Watergate and Public Life."


Michael Bitzer, Catawba College, Department of Politics chairman; author of the "Old North State Politics" blog (@BowTiePolitics)


Rufus Edmisten, former North Carolina attorney general (1974-1984) and secretary of state (1989-1996)