Still, I remained troubled by some of the irrational arguments that the task force had used in its effort to debunk the allegations of the many witnesses who claimed that the Republicans had gone behind Jimmy Carter's back in 1980 to strike their own deal with the Iranians.
For instance, one alibi for Reagan's campaign chief William Casey was based on the fact that Reagan's foreign policy aide Richard Allen had written down Casey's home phone number on one key day, thus, in the view of the task force, proving that Casey was at home even though there was no evidence that Allen had called or talked to Casey.
Another Casey alibi had relied on the uncorroborated memory of Casey's nephew Larry that his late father had called his brother (Bill Casey) on Oct. 19, 1980, and found him at work at the campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, not in Paris where other witnesses had placed Casey.
In 1992, Barcella's investigators deemed Larry Casey's recollection "credible," supposedly proving that Bill Casey had not traveled to Paris. But Larry Casey's recollection was anything but "credible."
In 1991, a year earlier, I had interviewed Larry Casey for a "Frontline" documentary. At that point, he had offered a completely different alibi for his uncle on that date. Larry Casey insisted that he vividly remembered his parents having dinner with Bill Casey at the Jockey Club in Washington on Oct. 19, 1980.
"It was very clear in my mind even though it was 11 years ago," Larry Casey said.
But then I showed Larry Casey the sign-in
sheets for the Reagan campaign headquarters. The entries recorded Larry
Casey's parents picking up Bill Casey for the dinner on Oct. 15, four
days earlier. Larry Casey acknowledged his error, and indeed an
American Express receipt later confirmed Oct. 15 as the date of the
Jockey Club dinner.
Then, there was the strange alibi for George H.W. Bush on the same date, Oct. 19, 1980, a supposed drive with Barbara Bush to visit a family friend in Washington. However, in 1992, then-President Bush's Secret Service balked at identifying the friend, only agreeing to give the House task force the name if the task force agreed to keep the name secret and to not interview the alibi witness. The task force agreed to this peculiar arrangement.
The Ladies Room
So, after the Republicans swept the November 1994 elections and as the Democrats were preparing to relinquish control, I decided that the time was ripe for seeking access to the unpublished task force files. I arranged with Democratic staffers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to let me see the records, although they imposed some restrictions such as limiting me to copying only a dozen pages per visit.
Arriving on Capitol Hill on a cold blustery December day, I followed their directions through the Rayburn parking garage and found the out-of-the-way offices. I was led through a warren of cubicles back to the Ladies Room, where the boxes of documents had been piled on the floor.
Left alone, while the staffer who was supposed to mind me talked to his girlfriend about Christmas plans, I began ripping open the boxes, which had not been examined by anyone else. While searching through one box, I found the Russian Report and the translation provided by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The Embassy cable was classified "confidential."
To my surprise, I also found other secret and top secret material that had apparently been left behind accidentally in the rush to complete the task force's work. I managed to copy some of this material, though hampered by the dozen-page limit. I also returned a couple of more times, filling my dozen-page copying quota with each visit.
Except for my examination of these records in late 1994 and early 1995, it does not appear that any other journalist or scholar has taken the time to go through this material. Today, it is not even clear where these records are or whether they still exist. Earlier this year, I couldn't get an answer from the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding their whereabouts or accessibility.
So, I believe the use of the verb "hide" to describe Barcella's handling of the Russian Report was fair and accurate. He certainly didn't advertise the existence of the remarkable document, nor did he make it easy to find.
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