In 1992, the protectors of Ronald Reagan's legacy and George H.W. Bush's presidency were in a bind. They had gained the upper hand in shutting down an investigation into allegations that Reagan and Bush had gone behind President Jimmy Carter's back in 1980 to undermine his negotiations to free 52 Americans held by Iranian radicals, but then one of their crucial alibis collapsed.
In a stranger-than-fiction moment, these protectors turned to the exclusive Bohemian Grove -- the target of a new round of Occupy protests this weekend -- as a location for cobbling together a replacement alibi, thus sparing the Establishment the unpleasantness of a thorough investigation into what had the appearance of "treason" by the widely admired Reagan and Bush Sr.
Official Washington had thought questions about the so-called "October Surprise" of 1980 had been put to rest in November 1991 when the neoconservative New Republic and the pro-Establishment Newsweek splashed debunking articles on their covers.
Both magazines claimed that an alleged meeting between Reagan's campaign chief William Casey and Iranians could not have happened because Casey had an alibi. Instead of meeting with Iranians in Madrid on Monday, July 28, 1980, as Iranian businessman (and CIA operative) Jamshid Hashemi had indicated, Casey was at a historical conference in London, his presence established by attendance records, the magazines said.
Gloating that they had proven once and for all that the October Surprise suspicions were "a myth," The New Republic and Newsweek mocked any remaining doubters as "conspiracy theorists."
The impact of the magazine stories -- and their ridiculing tone -- could not be overstated. Ted Koppel's ABC News "Nightline" program, which had aired an interview with Hashemi about the Madrid meeting, was humiliated. The producer who had brought Hashemi in for the interview was soon out of a job.
Armed with the magazine articles, congressional Republicans blocked a full investigation in the Senate and convinced House investigators to simply go through the motions before ratifying the innocence of Reagan and Bush. But then something unexpected happened. The London alibi collapsed.
It turned out that historian Robert Dallek, who had given the lecture to the morning conference on July 28, 1980, had looked for Casey in the boardroom at London's Imperial War Museum and was disappointed to find that Casey wasn't there. Other attendees also noticed Casey's absence; they recalled him arriving later in the day.
And a careful examination of the attendance records revealed that Newsweek and The New Republic had misread them. The markings actually showed Casey arriving in the afternoon, not the morning. In other words, the much-touted Newsweek/New Republic "alibi" was worthless.
A Back-up Plan
So what were the House investigators to do? They certainly weren't going to get serious and conduct an aggressive investigation. That might raise the ire of powerful Republicans and draw fire from influential neoconservatives. Instead, the investigators simply substituted a new and possibly even more ludicrous alibi. For that weekend in late July 1980, they put Casey at the Bohemian Grove.
The House investigators concocted this alibi by having Casey (who died in 1987) travel to northern California that last weekend in July 1980, take part in the exclusive retreat for rich and powerful men, then drive to San Francisco on Sunday afternoon and take an overnight flight to London, arriving for the historical conference on Monday afternoon, July 28, 1980.
The only trouble with this alibi was that there was not a shred of credible evidence to support it. Indeed, the clear evidence -- including records of Casey's transactions at the Grove and a contemporaneous diary entry by one of the members who stayed in the Parsonage camp with Casey -- showed that Casey attended the Grove on the first weekend of August, not the last weekend in July.
But the House investigators were determined to create this new alibi for Casey. They went so far as to throw out the documentary evidence of Casey's attendance in August, claiming that they had trumped that evidence with a notation by Reagan's foreign policy adviser Richard Allen who had written down Casey's home phone number on Aug. 2, 1980.
That act of writing down Casey's home number proved, the House investigators said, that Casey must have been at home and therefore not at the Bohemian Grove the first weekend of August. Ergo, the only alternative date would have been the last weekend in July and -- presto! -- the new alibi was created.