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Here's What a Real Political Cover-up Looks Like -- Orchestrated by the Right-Wingers Who Know It Best

Many lessons can be drawn from the failed October Surprise investigation of two decades ago.

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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;

–Narrowing the inquiry as it applied to alleged Reagan-Bush wrongdoing while simultaneously widening the probe to include Carter’s efforts to free the hostages;

–Mounting a public relations campaign attacking the investigation’s costs; and

–Encouraging friendly journalists to denounce the story.

Highly Effective

Ultimately, the GOP cover-up strategy proved highly effective, as Democrats grew timid and neoconservative journalists – then emerging as a powerful force in the Washington media – took the lead in decrying the October Surprise allegations as a “myth.”

The Republicans benefited, too, from a Washington press corps, which had grown weary of the complex Iran-Contra scandal. Careerist reporters in the mainstream press had learned that the route to advancement lay more in “debunking” such complicated national security scandals than in pursuing them.

It would take nearly two decades for the October Surprise cover-up  to crumble with admissions by officials involved in the investigation that its exculpatory conclusions  were rushed, that crucial evidence had been  hidden or ignored, and that some alibis for key Republicans  didn’t make any sense. [For details, see Robert Parry’s  America’s Stolen Narrative.]

In the near term, however, Republicans succeeded in their well-organized cover-up. They were aided immensely by Newsweek and The New Republic, which published matching stories on their covers in mid-November 1991 claiming to have debunked the October Surprise allegations by proving that Casey could not have made the trip to Madrid in 1980.

Though Bush’s White House already had the State Department’s information contradicting the smug self-certainty of the two magazines, the administration made no effort to correct the record. Yet, even without Beach’s memorandum, there was solid evidence at the time disproving the Newsweek/New Republic debunking articles.

Both magazines had sloppily misread attendance records at a London historical conference that Casey had attended on July 28, 1980, the time frame when Iranian businessman (and CIA agent) Jamshid Hashemi had placed Casey in Madrid for a secret meeting with Iranian emissary Mehdi Karrubi.

The two magazines insisted that the attendance records showed Casey in London for a morning session of the conference, thus negating the possibility that he could have made a side trip to Madrid. However, the magazines had failed to do the necessary follow-up interviews, which would have revealed that Casey was not at the morning session on July 28. He didn’t arrive until that afternoon, leaving the “window” open for Hashemi’s account.

At PBS “Frontline,” where I was involved in the October Surprise investigation, we talked to Americans and others who had participated in the London conference. Most significantly, we interviewed historian Robert Dallek who gave that morning’s presentation to a small gathering of attendees sitting in a conference room at the British Imperial War Museum.

Dallek said he had been excited to learn that Casey, who was running Reagan’s presidential campaign, would be there. So, Dallek looked for Casey, only to be disappointed that Casey was a no-show. Other Americans also recalled Casey arriving later and the records actually indicate Casey showing up for the afternoon session.

In other words, the high-profile Newsweek-New Republic debunking of the October Surprise story had itself been debunked. However, typical of the arrogance of those publications – and our inability to draw attention to their major screw-up – the magazines never acknowledged their gross error.