After arriving at the hotel lobby, Lavi said, "I waited for Mr. Silberman to arrive. He arrived and he was accompanied by two other gentlemen." Lavi said one was identified as McFarlane, but Lavi didn't recall if Allen was the third American.
According to Lavi's account, Silberman did most of the talking: "I believe he is the one who told me that "Mr. Lavi, we have one government at a time.' I took it that they do not want to interfere, but it turned out to be, I found out later on, that that's not the case. The Reagan-Bush campaign made a deal with the Iranians together with the help of the Israelis for the supply of arms to Iran."
I also interviewed Lavi's lawyer, Mitchell Rogovin, who was a former CIA counsel and then a senior adviser to the independent presidential campaign of Republican Congressman John Anderson. Rogovin said he was not aware of any Lavi meeting with Allen, Silberman and McFarlane. But Rogovin pulled out his calendar for that period and showed me that he had set up Lavi with a meeting on the morning of Oct. 2 with a CIA officer.
A partially declassified CIA memo has since confirmed that a CIA officer did meet with Lavi, starting at 10:30 a.m. The meeting lasted 55 minutes and involved Lavi proposing "delivery of $8 million to $10 million of F-14 spare parts" as part of a swap for the 52 American hostages, the memo said.
Though that proposal went nowhere, the CIA memo confirmed that Lavi was promoting a plan similar to the one he claimed to outline to the Reagan campaign representatives later that same day.
A Stunning Entry
The House Task Force investigation, which half-heartedly looked into the so-called October Surprise case in 1992, obtained other Rogovin notes, including an entry for Sept. 29, 1980, indicating that Rogovin had called senior CIA official John McMahon about Lavi's proposal and had arranged for the Oct. 2 meeting.
But the following Rogovin entry after the McMahon phone call was stunning. It read: "Larry Silberman -- still very nervous/will recommend " against us this P.M. I said $250,000 -- he said why even bother."
When I called Rogovin back and asked what that entry meant, he said the Anderson campaign was seeking a loan from Crocker National Bank where Silberman coincidentally served as legal counsel. The note meant that Silberman was planning to advise the bank officers against the loan, Rogovin said. "Silberman was nervous about lending the money," Rogovin said (though Crocker ultimately did extend a line of credit to the Anderson campaign).
I asked Rogovin if the Lavi hostage plan might have come up during the conversation with Silberman. "There was no discussion of the Lavi proposal," Rogovin said. But Rogovin acknowledged that Silberman was a friend from the Ford administration when both men had worked on intelligence issues -- Rogovin as CIA counsel and Silberman as deputy attorney general.
So there was at least the plausibility of two friends interested in intelligence matters chatting about Iran, especially since Rogovin's client was busy promoting a hostage deal and Silberman was one of the Reagan campaign officials tasked with keeping tabs on Carter's Iran-hostage negotiations.
After Reagan was elected, Silberman was named a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and moved into a house next door to Rogovin. Their friendship flourished and the two men bought a boat together. So there also was a reason Rogovin might have played down the Lavi-Silberman connection when I talked with him in the early 1990s. He may have wanted to avoid embarrassing or implicating his friend, Silberman.
An Israeli View
Israeli intelligence officer Ben-Menashe offered another account of the L'Enfant Plaza meeting. In Ben-Menashe's version, Lavi -- an Iranian Jew living in the United States and working with the Israeli government -- was involved as a coordinator for the meeting, but he was accompanied by Ben-Menashe and another Iranian, Ahmed Omshei.
Ben-Menashe said the message to the three Republicans was that Israel's Likud government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin was now tilting in favor of an immediate resolution of the Iran hostage crisis because of the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in mid-September.
If the American hostages could be freed in early October, the way would be cleared for Israel to sell a wider array of military hardware to Iran, which was then under pressure from the Iraqi invasion, Ben-Menashe said. That, of course, would have been bad news for the Reagan campaign, which feared that a resolution of the crisis before the November election -- the so-called October Surprise -- might give President Carter a major boost toward reelection.