Lawrence Barcella, who was chief counsel of the October Surprise investigation, has accused me of lying about him when I wrote that he decided to "hide" a report from the Russian government that contradicted his conclusion of "no credible evidence" that Ronald Reagan's campaign sabotaged President Jimmy Carter's attempts to free 52 Americans held hostage in Iran in 1980.
In a recent e-mail exchange, Barcella wrote to me: "You're no longer merely cherry-picking facts and misrepresenting events, but flat out lying. I'm not going to take the time or expend the energy to go line by line over what you've spewed out the past year or so, revealing as that would be regarding your falsehoods.
"You say I simply decided to hide the Russian rpt. That's a lie."
Yet, despite Barcella's anger, the undisputed fact is that Barcella took no action to release the Russian Report publicly, nor did he apparently show it to any of the congressmen on the House task force assigned to investigate the October Surprise mystery.
Although the report from the Russian Duma was addressed to the task force chairman, Rep. Lee Hamilton, the Indiana Democrat told me this spring that "I don't recall seeing it."
After hearing that from Hamilton, I contacted Barcella who acknowledged that he didn't "recall whether I showed [Hamilton] the Russian report or not." In an e-mail last Friday, however, Barcella amended that recollection slightly stating that "I do specifically recall discussing it with Lee."
Barcella then added that "I related to you my specific recollection of that discussion." But the discussion that Barcella had told me about previously did not deal with the Russian Report, but about other evidence of Republican guilt that had arrived in December 1992, information that Barcella thought justified extending the investigation three more months (which didn't happen).
By the time the Russian Report arrived on Jan. 11, 1993, the task force had completed its work. Its debunking report had been sent to the printer and was set for release two days later.
Also, Hamilton made clear to me in two interviews, including one after checking with his former staff aide Michael Van Dusen, that he had no recollection at all of the Russian Report, which one might think would have stuck in his mind since it represented possibly the first time that the two former Cold War adversaries had cooperated on a historical intelligence investigation.
Earlier this year, I also interviewed several former congressmen who had served on the task force and former staffers, none of whom had any recollection of the Russian Report. So, there is no corroborating evidence that Barcella shared the Russian Report with any of the officials responsible for the task force.
It's also clear that the last-minute arrival of the Russian Report and its conclusions contradicting the findings of the Barcella-led investigation would have represented an embarrassment to the task force which had already begun briefing selected reporters on its October Surprise debunking.
On Jan. 13, 1993, the task force released its report at a news conference with Hamilton and Republican vice-chair Henry Hyde discussing the findings. At that time, Barcella made no reference to the Russian Report, nor did anyone else.
Then, as the task force was closing down its offices, the Russian Report was unceremoniously deposited in a box with other unpublished material from the investigation. Barcella later told me that he envisioned it disappearing into a vast government warehouse like the closing scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
However, the Russian Report and other undisclosed material that went against the task force's findings ended up in a less grand location. The taped-up boxes were moved to some House office space that years earlier had been carved out of the Rayburn House Parking Garage and there dumped on the floor of an abandoned Ladies Room.
I had been recruited by PBS "Frontline" in 1990 to investigate the October Surprise issue essentially whether the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostage deals of 1985-86 had a prequel in 1980 but I turned to other topics in 1993 after the House task force finished its business.
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