C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush.
There have been nine public hearings and countless hours of commentary about the so-called Benghazi "cover-up" -- really some bureaucratic back-and-forth about "talking points" for a second-tier official's appearance on TV. But none of the outraged members of Congress or the news media seems to have any idea what a real cover-up looks like.
In 2011, I gained access to files at the George H.W. Bush library in College Station, Texas, showing how Bush's White House reacted to allegations in 1991 that he had joined in an operation in 1980 to sabotage President Jimmy Carter's negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.
Gray's strategy session followed by two days the White House receiving evidence from the State Department that a key fact in the October Surprise allegations had been verified. Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign director, William Casey, indeed had traveled on a mysterious trip to Madrid, just as one of the central witnesses had claimed.
The confirmation was passed along by State Department legal adviser Edwin D. Williamson, who said that among the State Department "material potentially relevant to the October Surprise allegations [was] a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Bill Casey was in town, for purposes unknown." Associate White House counsel Chester Paul Beach Jr. noted Williamson's information in a "memorandum for record" dated Nov. 4, 1991.
Two days later, on Nov. 6, Gray summoned his subordinates to a meeting that laid out how to thwart the October Surprise inquiry, which was seen as a dangerous expansion of the Iran-Contra investigation. Up to that point, Iran-Contra had focused on illicit arms-for-hostage sales to Iran that President Reagan authorized in 1985-86.
As assistant White House counsel Ronald vonLembke, put it, the White House goal in 1991 was to "kill/spike this story." To achieve that result, the Republicans coordinated the counter-offensive through Gray's office under the supervision of associate counsel Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
Gray explained the stakes at the White House strategy session. "Whatever form they ultimately take, the House and Senate 'October Surprise' investigations, like Iran-Contra, will involve interagency concerns -- and be of special interest to the President," Gray declared, according to minutes. [Emphasis in original.]
Among "touchstones" cited by Gray were "No Surprises to the White House, and Maintain Ability to Respond to Leaks in Real Time. This is Partisan." White House "talking points" on the October Surprise investigation urged restricting the inquiry to 1979-80 and imposing strict time limits for issuing any findings.
"Alleged facts have to do with 1979-80 -- no apparent reason for jurisdiction/subpoena power to extend beyond," the document said. "There is no sunset provision -- this could drag on like Walsh!" -- a reference to Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
However, the key to understanding the October Surprise case was that it appeared to be a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal, part of the same narrative. The story started with the 1980 crisis over 52 American hostages held in Iran, continuing through their release immediately after Ronald Reagan's inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981, then followed by mysterious U.S. government approval of secret arms shipments to Iran via Israel in 1981, and ultimately morphing into the Iran-Contra Affair of more arms-for-hostage deals with Iran until that scandal exploded in 1986.
The documents, which I obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that Reagan-Bush loyalists were determined to thwart any sustained investigation that might link the two scandals. The GOP counterattack included:
--Delaying the production of documents;
--Having a key witness dodge a congressional subpoena;
--Neutralizing an aggressive Democratic investigator;
--Pressuring a Republican senator to become more obstructive;
--Tightly restricting access to classified information;