More than three decades ago, on Oct. 19, 1980, then-Republican vice presidential candidate George H.W. Bush supposedly took an afternoon trip to visit a family friend in Washington, an alibi that could prove he could not have traveled secretly to Paris for treacherous meetings with Iranians.
But Bush's White House in 1992 -- and his presidential library now -- have refused to release the name of this alibi witness or even the address where Bush allegedly went. The insistence on keeping this secret has just been reaffirmed by Debra Steidel Wall, deputy archivist of the United States.
So, rather than release what theoretically should be a fact the Bush Family would want out -- proof that the elder George Bush did not engage in secret talks with Iranians behind President Jimmy Carter's back regarding 52 Americans then being held hostage in Iran -- the U.S. government is saying that only a costly federal court lawsuit can dislodge this historical detail.
Or, perhaps the reason that this secret has been so zealously guarded for so long is that Bush never took the afternoon trip, that it was just part of a cover story to conceal his mission to Paris, and that the host -- if questioned -- would discredit Bush's alibi.
Whatever the truth, as long as the Bushes and the government prevent the corroboration of his purported afternoon visit, it remains impossible to disprove contrary evidence that Bush did sneak off for the alleged Paris meeting and simply arranged with friends in the Secret Service to concoct an alibi.
Another part of Bush's alibi for Oct. 19 -- a morning trip to the Chevy Chase Country Club -- previously collapsed when no one at the club recalled the visit and the account from Secret Service supervisor Leonard Tanis, who described a brunch also involving Barbara Bush and Justice and Mrs. Potter Stewart, turned out to be false.
Disproving Tanis' account, Mrs. Bush's Secret Service records showed her taking a morning jog along the C&O Canal, and Mrs. Stewart told me that she and her late husband never had brunch with the Bushes at the Chevy Chase Club. After his Chevy Chase story was debunked, Tanis -- a Secret Service official who was known to be personally close to Bush -- withdrew it.
A Mysterious Alibi
That left Bush's supposed afternoon trip on Oct. 19 as his key alibi. But there were problems with that story as well.
In 1992, when allegations of Bush's secret trip to Paris in 1980 were being investigated, Republicans suggested that Democrats were simply trying to embarrass the then-President because the afternoon trip might have involved a rendezvous with a woman.
Since Bush's reelection campaign was matching up against Democrat Bill Clinton, who was under fire for his own womanizing, the GOP complaint boiled down to that the Democrats were looking for dirt against Bush to counter the dirt against Clinton.
However, that Republican argument also fell apart when Mrs. Bush's Secret Service records showed her participating in the afternoon trip. Given Barbara Bush's presence, the idea of a romantic tryst certainly didn't make much sense.
So, either Mrs. Bush had gone together with her husband or a sympathetic Secret Service official had used Mrs. Bush's visit to a family friend to create another false cover story for George H.W. Bush.
Yet, two decades ago, with Bush in the White House and the Democrats almost as timid as they are today, it proved relatively easy for the President to quash requests from federal prosecutors, congressional investigators and journalists for release of the details about his whereabouts on Oct. 19, 1980.
While keeping these details from the public, Bush angrily insisted that he be cleared of the Paris allegations. Congressional investigators looking into the 1980 suspicions were eager to comply, but there remained this peculiar refusal of the Bush administration to supply a confirmable alibi.
In June 1992, a compromise of sorts was struck. A few senior congressional investigators were given the identity of Bush's mysterious host but only under the condition that they would never interview the alibi witness nor disclose publicly who it was.