A congressional report on a turning point of modern U.S. political history whether candidate Ronald Reagan struck a treacherous deal with Iranian radicals to help win the White House in 1980 was written haphazardly and deceptively, including an apparently false claim that Reagan's innocence was approved unanimously by a House task force.
A recent reexamination of the task force's work also reveals that evidence implicating Reagan's campaign in a pre-election deal to delay the release of 52 Americans then held hostage in Iran was kept from the U.S. public and even from members of the task force; that senior staff investigators shelved late-arriving evidence of Republican guilt; and that dissent within the task force was suppressed.
Recently, one task force member, retired Rep. Mervyn Dymally, D-California, while working on his personal memoirs, noticed that the cover letter accompanying the task force report claimed that there had been a unanimous vote on Dec. 10, 1992, exonerating Reagan. Dymally told me that he knew of no such vote on that date or at any other time.
When I contacted former task force chairman Lee Hamilton, he told me that he would not have claimed there was a unanimous vote if there hadn't been one.
However, when I checked with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I was told that no record could be found of a roll call of the task force vote. "From the records we have there is no evidence of a recorded vote," said committee spokesman David Barnes in an e-mail. (In the mid-1990s, when I searched through the task force's unpublished files, I also found no record of a roll call.)
While the cover letter claiming a unanimous vote appears at the start of the report, Dymally's refusal to accept the findings is relegated to a single sentence on page 244 under the subhead "Office Space and Equipment." In his e-mail, Barnes noted that "our [committee] clerk said that there should have been another heading for that sentence instead of being under the "Office Space & Equipment' heading."
The apparent effort to bury the contradiction between the claim of a unanimous vote cited in a cover letter to then-House Speaker Thomas Foley and Dymally's refusal to sign the report was only one indication of how fragile the task force's conclusions were in clearing Reagan of the so-called October Surprise suspicions of a 1980 deal with Iran.
Some of the report's shortcomings were obvious when it was issued in January 1993 (though the report was widely praised then by the mainstream U.S. news media). But more problems with the report have emerged in the past few months as part of our reexamination.
For instance, the task force's chief counsel, Lawrence Barcella, apparently failed to inform chairman Hamilton that the Russian government had submitted a report on its intelligence regarding the October Surprise issue and that the Russian report confirmed that Reagan's campaign did strike a 1980 pre-election deal with Iran over the hostages.
Regarding the Russian report, Hamilton told me, "I don't recall seeing it," even though he was the one who had requested Moscow's cooperation in the first place and the extraordinary Russian report was addressed to him.
Surprised by Hamilton's unfamiliarity with the Russian report, I e-mailed him a PDF copy and contacted the task force's former chief counsel, Barcella, who acknowledged in an e-mail that he doesn't "recall whether I showed [Hamilton] the Russian report or not."
Barcella and Hamilton also disagreed about Barcella's claim that other late-arriving evidence of Republican guilt had led Barcella to ask Hamilton to extend the October Surprise investigation for several months, so the leads could be run down.
Barcella said Hamilton refused, citing procedural difficulties in getting more time for the inquiry. But Hamilton denied that Barcella had made such a request. [For details on these two points, see Consortiumnews.com's "Key October Surprise Evidence Hidden."]
Under the Rug
Instead of prompting an extended investigation, the late-arriving evidence of Republican guilt in 1980 was simply swept under the rug, during the final weeks of George H.W. Bush's presidency in 1992. Task force members appeared eager to avoid a bitter partisan clash over a historical case when it was easier to look to the future, not the past.