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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 night of Oct. 18 indeed was rainy in the Washington area. And, sign-in sheets at the Reagan-Bush headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, placed Casey within a five-minute drive of National Airport late that evening.

A well-connected French investigative reporter Claude Angeli said his sources inside the French secret service confirmed that the service provided “cover” for a meeting between Republicans and Iranians in France on the weekend of October 18-19. German journalist Martin Kilian had received a similar account from a top aide to intelligence chief deMarenches.

As early as 1987, Iran’s ex-President Bani-Sadr had made claims about such a Paris meeting, and Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe claimed to have been present outside the meeting and saw Bush, Casey, Gates and Gregg in attendance.

Russian Report

Finally, the Russian government sent  a report to the House Task Force, saying that Soviet-era intelligence files contained information about Republicans holding a series of meetings with Iranians in Europe, including one in Paris in October 1980. “William Casey, in 1980, met three times with representatives of the Iranian leadership,” the Russian 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 report said. “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.”

The Russian Report was kept hidden by the House Task Force until I discovered it by gaining access to the Task Force’s raw files. Though the report was addressed to Hamilton, he told me in 2010 that he had never seen the report until I sent him a copy shortly before our interview. Barcella then acknowledged to me that he might not have shown Hamilton the report and may have simply filed it away in boxes of Task Force records.

The documents from the Bush library also shed light on how far the Republicans were prepared to go to protect Bush on the issue of his whereabouts on Oct. 19, 1980. The GOP members of the Task Force insisted that the one Democratic investigator who had the strongest doubts about Bush’s alibi be barred from the inquiry altogether.

The suspicions of the investigator, House Foreign Affairs Committee chief counsel Spencer Oliver, had been piqued by the false account from Secret Service supervisor Tanis. In a six-page memo, Oliver urged a closer look at Bush’s whereabouts and questioned why the Secret Service was concealing the alibi witness’ name.

“Why did the Secret Service refuse to cooperate on a matter which could have conclusively cleared George Bush of these serious allegations?” Oliver asked. “Was the White House involved in this refusal? Did they order it?”

Oliver also noted Bush’s odd behavior in raising the October Surprise issue on his own at two news conferences. “It can be fairly said that President Bush’s recent outbursts about the October Surprise inquiries and [about] his whereabouts in mid-October of 1980 are disingenuous at best,” wrote Oliver, “since the administration has refused to make available the documents and the witnesses that could finally and conclusively clear Mr. Bush.”

Well-Founded Suspicions

From Janet Rehnquist’s memo on the meeting with Jeffords and Sanford, it appears that Oliver’s suspicion was well-founded about the involvement of Bush’s White House in the decision to conceal the name of the supposed afternoon host.

Another released documents reflected how angry the Republicans were about Oliver, who also had been a dogged investigator during the congressional Iran-Contra probe in 1987. Thomas Smeeton, a former CIA officer who served as Republican staff director for the House Intelligence Committee and had been Rep. Dick Cheney’s appointee to the congressional Iran-Contra committee, sent Rehnquist a memorandum prepared for Republican members regarding Oliver.