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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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Worse Than Sloppiness

I later learned that the journalistic malfeasance at Newsweek was even worse than sloppiness. Journalist Craig Unger, who had been hired by Newsweek to work on the October Surprise story, told me that he had spotted the misreading of the attendance records before Newsweek published its article and alerted the investigative team, which was personally headed by executive editor Maynard Parker.

“They told me, essentially, to fuck off,” Unger said.

During my years at Newsweek, from 1987-90, Parker had been my chief nemesis. He was considered close to prominent neocons, including Iran-Contra figure Elliott Abrams, and to Establishment Republicans, such as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Parker also was a member of banker David Rockefeller’s Council on Foreign Relations — and viewed the Iran-Contra scandal as something best shut down quickly.

Jumping to a false conclusion that would protect his influential friends would fit perfectly with what I knew of Parker. [To this day, neither Newsweek nor The New Republic has published a correction for their errors, despite the historical damage done.]

The false articles in Newsweek and The New Republic gave the White House cover-up a key advantage: Washington’s conventional wisdom crowd now assumed that the October Surprise allegations were bogus. All that was necessary was to make sure no conclusive evidence to the contrary reached the congressional investigation.

Coordination was crucial. For instance, on May 14, 1992, a CIA official  ran proposed language past associate White House counsel Janet Rehnquist from then-CIA Director Robert Gates regarding the agency’s level of cooperation with Congress. By that point, the CIA, under Gates, was already months into a pattern of foot-dragging on congressional document requests.

Bush had put Gates, who was also implicated in the October Surprise case, at the CIA’s helm in fall 1991, meaning that Gates was well-positioned to stymie congressional requests for sensitive information about secret initiatives involving Bush, Gates and Donald Gregg, another CIA veteran who was linked to the scandal.

The records at the Bush library revealed that Gates and Gregg, indeed, were targets of the congressional October Surprise probe. On May 26, 1992, Rep. Lee Hamilton, chairman of the House Task Force, wrote to the CIA asking for records regarding the whereabouts of Gregg and Gates from Jan. 1, 1980, through Jan. 31, 1981, including travel plans and leaves of absence.

Withholding Documents

The persistent document-production delays finally drew  a complaint from Lawrence Barcella, chief counsel to the House Task Force who wrote to the CIA on June 9, 1992, that the agency had not been responsive to three requests on Sept. 20, 1991; April 20, 1992; and May 26, 1992.

Gregg and Gates also were implicated in the broader the Iran-Contra scandal. Both were suspected of lying about their knowledge of secret sales of military hardware to Iran and clandestine delivery of weapons to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

A ex-CIA director himself, Bush also had been caught lying in the Iran-Contra scandal when he insisted that a plane shot down over Nicaragua in 1986 while dropping weapons to the Contras had no connection to the U.S. government (when the weapons delivery had been organized by operatives close to Bush’s vice presidential office where Gregg served as national security adviser).

And, Bush falsely claimed that he was out of the “loop” on Iran-Contra decisions when later evidence showed that he was a major participant in the policy discussions. From the Bush library documents, it was apparent that the October Surprise cover-up was essentially an extension of the broader effort to contain the Iran-Contra scandal, with Bush personally involved in orchestrating both efforts.