The pundits on CNN’s “Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” were unanimous: Republican campaign strategist Ed Rollins was a great guy and his hiring as national chairman for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign gave it a solid jolt of credibility.
But Blitzer’s panel of journalists on Dec. 14 didn’t seem to either know or care that Rollins has withheld evidence since 1991 about the identity of a top Filipino politician who admitted delivering an illegal $10 million cash payment to Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Rollins, who ran Reagan’s reelection campaign, mentioned the admission in his 1996 book, Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms, recounting how the Filipino casually asserted over drinks that he had carried the money in a suitcase to a Republican lobbyist who was representing the Reagan campaign.
"I was the guy who gave the ten million from Marcos to your campaign," the Filipino told Rollins. "I was the guy who made the arrangements and delivered the cash personally. ...It was a personal gift from Marcos to Reagan."
In his book, Rollins described this stunning news with a light touch. The first thought that raced through his head, he wrote, was "Cash? Holy sh*t."
However, Rollins has refused since to divulge the name of either the Filipino politician or the Republican lobbyist. And it speaks volumes of the mood during the mid-1990s – when Ronald Reagan’s legacy was taking on mythic status – that no one pressed Rollins for details of this crime.
Also, that Rollins could drop this tidbit into his memoir, go mum on identifying the direct participants, and still remain a universally respected Washington insider says a lot about the morality of today’s political establishment.
In his memoir, Rollins tried to minimize the significance of the suitcase full of cash by suggesting that the illegal contribution might never have reached the campaign or President Reagan. "I knew the lobbyist well and I had no doubt the money was now in some offshore bank," Rollins wrote.
But Rollins had no way to know for sure – and it would have been a very risky move for the lobbyist to divert $10 million in cash that Marcos was sending personally to Reagan, especially since the lobbyist would have to assume that Marcos had told Reagan that the money was on the way.
There also was a history to the allegations of Marcos-Reagan payoffs.
Dancing with Mrs. Marcos
The Marcos-Reagan relationship dated back at least to 1969 when President Richard Nixon assigned Reagan to represent the United States at the gala opening of Imelda Marcos's multi-million-dollar cultural center in Manila.Reagan charmed the Philippine president and his wife. The former Hollywood movie actor twirled Mrs. Marcos around the dance floor.
By 1980, Marcos had another reason to root for a Reagan presidency. Marcos was weary of President Jimmy Carter's nagging about human rights violations in the Philippines. Marcos also was unnerved by Carter's inability to protect another friendly despot, the Shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979 and forced into a humiliating exile.
If Reagan were to defeat Carter, Marcos could expect that the human rights lectures would stop and U.S. officials would look the other way when it came to Marcos's staggering corruption.
Carter’s reelection campaign also was hobbled by his inability to free 52 American hostages then held by radicals in Iran, a crisis that opened the door to Reagan's landslide victory.
In the years since, some witnesses have claimed that Marcos put up money to support a covert Republican operation to contact Iranian authorities behind Carter’s back and to bribe them into delaying release of the hostages until after the November 1980 election.Documentary evidence of a Marcos-to-Reagan payoff in 1980 first surfaced after Marcos was ousted by a popular revolution in March 1986.