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Inside the October Surprise Cover-up

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However, at least one White House official privately held a different view of Sick's book, October Surprise. On June 23, 1992, after reading it, Ash Jain wrote a memo to Janet Rehnquist, noting that "Sick presents a seemingly compelling account of [William] Casey's participation in secret meetings with the Iranian Government."

Winning Strategy

In the end, the Republican "delay/filibuster strategy," which Secretary of State Baker had criticized early on, proved successful. The impact of the October Surprise scandal on Campaign 1992 was minimized, although Bush still failed to win reelection.

It wasn't until December 1992 -- a month after Bush lost to Bill Clinton -- that the floodgates on October Surprise evidence finally began to open.

Years later, Task Force chief counsel Barcella told me that so much new evidence poured in that final month implicating the Republicans that he asked Hamilton to extend the investigation three more months. But Hamilton, recognizing how nasty the Republican reaction would be, turned down the extension request, Barcella said.

For his part, Hamilton told me that he had no recollection of Barcella's request. Hamilton also said he had no memory of Barcella ever showing him the Russian report which arrived in January 1993 and corroborated allegations of meetings between Iranians and Republicans in Europe, including Bush, Gates and Casey in Paris.

The documents from the George Bush Library in College Station, Texas, don't provide a smoking gun on the October Surprise mystery -- at least not the material so far released.

On June 17, 2011, the Bush library's archivists informed me that they had located about 4,800 pages of documents identified as relating to the October Surprise case, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that I filed on April 17, 2007.

However, about one-quarter of the total documents were still being withheld, with 1,160 pages protected for national security reasons. Another 313 pages, including Bush's Secret Service records for mid-October 1980, also were kept secret.

Though the congressional October Surprise inquiry of 1991-92 overall was a failure -- and Bush enjoyed similar successes in containing Iran-Contra and Iraq-gate -- the cumulative effect of the scandals was to raise doubts about his honesty before Election 1992, arguably stripping him of his strongest trump card as a trustworthy global leader.

But the larger consequence of the Democrats letting Bush off the hook was that they spared the Bush Family legacy.

Instead of Americans understanding how deceptive and possibly treacherous George H.W. Bush was, they were left with a pleasant memory of a well-meaning patrician -- and that warmth carried over to his two political sons, George W. and Jeb.

Only eight years after George H.W. Bush left office, George W. Bush became President of the United States, bringing back with him many of the neoconservatives and partisan operatives who had cut their teeth on manipulating information during the Reagan-Bush-41 years.

Soon, they were back in business deploying clever propaganda and frustrating inconvenient investigations.

For her part, Janet Rehnquist, who oversaw the White House counter-attacks against the October Surprise story, ran into a similar controversy over a politically motivated cover-up after the second President Bush appointed her to be inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.

When Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was running for reelection in 2002 and faced a scandal over a possible $571 million overpayment by the federal government to the state, an aide to Bush got Rehnquist to agree to postpone an audit, which was eventually pushed back five months guaranteeing no findings until after Bush had secured reelection.

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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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