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Inside the October Surprise Cover-up

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In a June 18, 1992, cable from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to the State Department in Washington, Gregg wrote that he had learned that Senate investigators had "attempted to subpoena me to appear on 24 June in connection with their so-called 'October Surprise' investigation. The subpoena was sent to my lawyer, Judah Best, who returned it to the committee since he had no authority to accept service of a subpoena.

"If the October Surprise investigation contacts the [State] Department, I request that you tell them of my intention to cooperate fully when I return to the States, probably in September. Any other inquiries should be referred to my lawyer, Judah Best. Mr. Best asks that I specifically request you not to accept service of a subpoena if the committee attempts to deliver one to you."

That way Gregg ensured that he was not legally compelled to testify, while running out the clock on the Senate inquiry and leaving little time for the House Task Force. His strategy of delay was endorsed by Janet Rehnquist after a meeting with Best and a State Department lawyer.

In a June 24, 1992, letter to Gray, Rehnquist wrote that "at your direction, I have looked into whether Don Gregg should return to Washington to testify before the Senate Subcommittee hearings next week. ... I believe we should NOT request that Gregg testify next week."

The failure to effect service of the subpoena gave the Bush team an advantage, Rehnquist noted, because the Senate investigators then relented and merely "submitted written questions to Gregg, through counsel, in lieu of an appearance...This development provides us an opportunity to manage Gregg's participation in October Surprise long distance."

Rehnquist added hopefully that by the end of September 1992 "the issue may, by that time, even be dead for all practical purposes."  

Protecting the Campaign

Beyond pushing the investigation later into 1992, the Republican delaying tactics also ensured that an interim House report, scheduled for the end of June, would not break any new ground that might torpedo Bush's reelection hopes.  

The GOP made it a top goal to have the interim report clear Bush of allegations that he had joined a secret trip to Paris in mid-October 1980 to meet with Iranian representatives, the newly released documents show.  

On June 24, 1992, Rehnquist prepared "talking points" for a Boyden Gray phone call with Republican Sens. Jim Jeffords of Vermont and Richard Lugar of Indiana, stressing that "it must be said clearly for the record" that Bush was not in Paris. 

"We cannot let something this important left hanging," Rehnquist wrote.

The key to that success was to prevent the congressional investigators from thoroughly examining Bush's supposed alibis for the date of Oct. 19, 1980, when his account had him returning to his Washington home for a day off but when some October Surprise witnesses alleged he snuck off for a quick overnight flight to Paris.

The newly released records reveal that the White House had a hand in limiting what the Secret Service released to the investigators regarding Bush's supposed activities during the day of Oct. 19.

The partially redacted Secret Service records, which were given to Congress, showed a morning trip to the Chevy Chase Country Club and an afternoon visit to a private residence. But the redactions impeded efforts by congressional investigators to corroborate that those supposed movements by Bush, the then-vice presidential nominee, actually took place.

Under questioning, only one of the Secret Service agents, supervisor Leonard Tanis, had any memory of Bush's supposed trip to the Chevy Chase Country Club. Tanis claimed that George and Barbara Bush attended a brunch with Supreme Court Justice and Mrs. Potter Stewart.

However, Barbara Bush's records showed her going somewhere else that morning and, when questioned, Mrs. Stewart said she and her late husband did not have brunch with the Bushes. No one at the Chevy Chase club recalled the supposed brunch either. Tanis, a Bush favorite among the Secret Service detail, soon backed off his account.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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