The 50th Anniversary of the Subpoena for President Nixon’s Tapes


July 24, 1973

Fifty years ago yesterday, IGI Founder Terry Lenzner delivered to the White House the first subpoena ever issued to a sitting president. As assistant counsel to the U.S. Senate Watergate Committee, Lenzner and Rufus Edmisten, the deputy chief counsel to the committee, delivered subpoenas from the Committee mandating that President Richard Nixon surrender audio recordings and documents related to the break-in of the Democratic National Committee’s offices at the Watergate.

The existence of the tapes had been made public a week prior when Alexander Butterfield told the Senate committee that President Nixon had recorded nearly all of his meetings and telephone conversations from the White House, at the Executive Office Building next door and at the presidential retreat at Camp David.

After initially refusing to comply, President Nixon relented following a unanimous adverse Supreme Court ruling in July 1974 and turned over the materials, which provided the evidentiary basis for the U.S. House of Representatives to bring impeachment charges against him. On the eve of his impeachment, on August 8, 1974, President Nixon announced his intention to resign in an address to the nation.


At the time, issuing a subpoena to a sitting president was an unprecedented yet calculated risk that carried significant legal, ethical, and historical importance. This action ultimately helped shape the public’s view of political transparency and raised the bar for the accountability of high-ranking government officials.

Lenzner’s role and contributions to the Committee 50 years ago burnished his reputation as a tenacious and consequential attorney and investigator and set the foundation for the vision and values he extolled when forming IGI ten years later. In recognizing the 50th anniversary of this monumental event, IGI honors Lenzner’s legacy and the principles by which he led IGI with the highest ethical standards in our ongoing pursuit of truth and fact.

Pictured at the top: Sam J. Ervin, Jr., D-N.C., chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, signs the subpoena calling for the presidential tapes to be brought before the committee, in Washington, D.C., July 24, 1973. Witnessing the signing from left, are: Rufus Edmisten, deputy chief counsel; Terry Lenzner, assistant counsel; and Marc Lackritz, assistant counsel. (Published with permission from the Associated Press)

Pictured at the bottom: Rufus Edmisten, deputy chief counsel, left, and Terry Lenzner, assistant counsel, carry the Senate Watergate Committee subpoenas for the presidential tapes as they arrive at the Executive Office Building in Washington D.C., July 23, 1973. (Published with permission from the Associated Press/Credit Charles W. Harrity)