A Russian government report, which corroborated allegations that Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign interfered with President Jimmy Carter's Iran-hostage negotiations in 1980, was apparently kept from the Democratic chairman of a congressional task force that investigated the charges a dozen years later.
Lee Hamilton, then a congressman from Indiana in charge of the task force, told me in a recent interview, "I don't recall seeing it," although he was the one who had requested Moscow's cooperation in the first place and the extraordinary Russian report was addressed to him.
The Russian report, which was dropped off at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Jan. 11, 1993, contradicted the task force's findings which were released two days later of "no credible evidence" showing that Republicans contacted Iranian intermediaries behind President Carter's back regarding 52 American hostages held by Iran's Islamic revolutionary government, the so-called October Surprise case.
I was surprised by Hamilton's unfamiliarity with the Russian report, so I e-mailed him a PDF copy. I then contacted the task force's former chief counsel, attorney Lawrence Barcella, who acknowledged in an e-mail that he doesn't "recall whether I showed [Hamilton] the Russian report or not."
In other words, the Russian report possibly representing Moscow's first post-Cold War collaboration with the United States on an intelligence mystery was not only kept from the American public but apparently from the chairman of the task force responsible for the investigation.
The revelation further suggests that the congressional investigation was shoddy and incomplete, thus reopening the question of whether Reagan's landslide victory in 1980 was, in part, set in motion by a dirty trick that extended the 444-day captivity of the hostages who were freed immediately after Reagan was sworn into office on Jan. 20, 1981.
The coincidence between Reagan's inauguration and the hostage release was curious to some but served mostly to establish in the minds of Americans that Reagan was a tough leader who instilled fear in U.S. adversaries. However, if the timing actually resulted from a clandestine arms-for-hostage deal, it would mean that Reagan's presidency began with an act of deception, as well as an act of treachery.
The Russian report also implicates other prominent Republicans in the Iranian contacts, including the late William Casey (who was Reagan's campaign director in 1980), George H.W. Bush (who was Reagan's vice presidential running mate), and Robert Gates (who in 1980 had been a CIA officer on the National Security Council before becoming executive assistant to Carter's CIA Director Stansfield Turner).
Casey, who served as Reagan's first CIA director, died in 1987 before the 1980 allegations came under scrutiny. Bush, who was President during the task force's 1992 inquiry, angrily denied the accusations at two news conferences but was never questioned under oath. Gates, who was CIA director in 1992 and is now President Barack Obama's Defense Secretary, also has brushed off the suspicions.
As described by the Russians, the 1980 hostage negotiations boiled down to a competition between the Carter administration and the Reagan campaign offering the Iranians different deals if the hostages were either released before the election to help Carter or held until after the election to benefit Reagan.
The Iranians "discussed a possible step-by-step normalization of Iranian-American relations [and] the provision of support for President Carter in the election campaign via the release of American hostages," according to the U.S. Embassy's classified translation of the Russian report.
Meanwhile, the Republicans were making their own overtures, the Russian report said. "William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership," the report said. "The meetings took place in Madrid and Paris."
At the Paris meeting in October 1980,
"R[obert] Gates, at that time a staffer of the National Security
Council in the administration of Jimmy Carter, and former CIA Director
George Bush also took part," the Russian report said. "In Madrid and
Paris, the representatives of Ronald Reagan and the Iranian leadership
discussed the question of possibly delaying the release of 52 hostages
from the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran."
Both the Reagan-Bush Republicans and the Carter Democrats "started from the proposition that Imam Khomeini, having announced a policy of "neither the West nor the East,' and cursing the "American devil,' imperialism and Zionism, was forced to acquire American weapons, spares and military supplies by any and all possible means," the Russian report said.
According to the Russians, the Republicans won the bidding war. "After the victory of R. Reagan in the election, in early 1981, a secret agreement was reached in London in accord with which Iran released the American hostages, and the U.S. continued to supply arms, spares and military supplies for the Iranian army," the Russian report continued.