One senior congressional staff aide told me that after the 1992 election, in which the elder President Bush lost reelection to Bill Clinton, the task force wanted the October Surprise case to simply go away.
"Once the election passed, whatever interest in the investigation waned," said the Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. "People were looking toward a new Democratic administration, staffing, et cetera; they were not that interested in an old scandal."
That old scandal centered on whether Reagan's 1980 campaign contacted Iranian officials behind President Jimmy Carter's back to frustrate his efforts to free 52 U.S. hostages held by Iranian radicals, a long-running crisis that some political analysts believe sank Carter's reelection hopes. The hostages were finally freed after 444 days of captivity immediately after Reagan was sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981.
The significance of Reagan's victory on modern American history can hardly be overstated. For instance, while Carter wanted to use his second term to press for U.S. energy independence and to secure a lasting Middle East peace, Reagan had little use for such policies and instead pushed through an anti-government agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation of corporations.
Three decades later, the United States remains addicted to oil, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to bedevil U.S. policy-makers, Reagan's (and later George W. Bush's) tax cuts have contributed to massive federal deficits, and the concept of corporate self-regulation has led to financial and environmental disasters.
Today, as Republicans anticipate major congressional gains in November, Reagan's anti-government mantra has become a Tea Party and GOP rallying cry again.
Perhaps even more important, the notion of Republican impunity to get away with pretty much whatever audacious action they undertake pervades national politics.
Since the 1970s, Democrats have shied away from holding Republicans accountable for a string of national security scandals, with the failed investigation into the 1980 October Surprise case serving as a kind of template, not dissimilar from President Barack Obama's refusal to investigate President George W. Bush's decisions regarding torture and other war crimes.
The Democrats seem to believe that if they "look forward, not backward" regarding Republican crimes that they can secure some measure of bipartisanship, even if there is little evidence of that.
Another danger is that these whitewash investigations undermine public confidence in government, breeding a public cynicism that can contribute to unfounded conspiracy theories. For instance, Hamilton's role in the October Surprise cover-up has undermined his credibility on the 9/11 Commission and other blue-ribbon investigative panels.
Ultimately, Americans find themselves not knowing who or what to believe.
In a sense, the demise of the October Surprise case represented the last chapter of the Iran-Contra cover-up, even though chronologically, the events of 1980 preceded Reagan's arms-for-hostage deals with Iran in 1985-86.
Those secret transactions with profits going to support the Nicaraguan contra rebels erupted into the worst scandal of Reagan's administration, known as the Iran-Contra Affair.
In late 1986, after Reagan and other senior officials were caught lying in their denials about those secret arms shipments to Iran, the cover-up began almost immediately, first by trying to shift the blame to a few supposedly "rogue" operatives, such as White House aide Oliver North and his boss, national security adviser John Poindexter.
Though the congressional Iran-Contra investigation also headed by Lee Hamilton was largely willing to accept the cover story and move on, questions persisted about how the relationship between the Reagan administration and the Iranian mullahs began and why Reagan continued the arms-for-hostage swaps in 1985-86 even when the total of U.S. hostages held in Lebanon by Iranian allies didn't go down.
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