Finally an explanation for the odd “coincidence” of the release of the Iranian hostages at almost the exact minute Reagan was being sworn in. I remember thinking just how weird it was.
A Russian government report, which corroborated allegations that Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign interfered with President Jimmy Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations in 1980, was apparently kept from the Democratic chairman of a congressional task force that investigated the charges a dozen years later.
Lee Hamilton, then a congressman from Indiana in charge of the task force, told me in a recent interview, “I don’t recall seeing it,” although he was the one who had requested Moscow’s cooperation in the first place and the extraordinary Russian report was addressed to him.
The Russian report, which was dropped off at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Jan. 11, 1993, contradicted the task force’s findings – which were released two days later – of “no credible evidence” showing that Republicans contacted Iranian intermediaries behind President Carter’s back regarding 52 American hostages held by Iran’s Islamic revolutionary government, the so-called October Surprise case.
In other words, the Russian report – possibly representing Moscow’s first post-Cold War collaboration with the United States on an intelligence mystery – was not only kept from the American public but apparently from the chairman of the task force responsible for the investigation.
The revelation further suggests that the congressional investigation was shoddy and incomplete, thus reopening the question of whether Reagan’s landslide victory in 1980 was, in part, set in motion by a dirty trick that extended the 444-day captivity of the hostages who were freed immediately after Reagan was sworn into office on Jan. 20, 1981.
The coincidence between Reagan’s inauguration and the hostage release was curious to some but served mostly to establish in the minds of Americans that Reagan was a tough leader who instilled fear in U.S. adversaries. However, if the timing actually resulted from a clandestine arms-for-hostage deal, it would mean that Reagan’s presidency began with an act of deception, as well as an act of treachery.
The Russian report also implicates other prominent Republicans in the Iranian contacts, including the late William Casey (who was Reagan’s campaign director in 1980), George H.W. Bush (who was Reagan’s vice presidential running mate), and Robert Gates (who in 1980 had been a CIA officer on the National Security Council before becoming executive assistant to Carter’s CIA Director Stansfield Turner).
According to the Russians, the Republicans won the bidding war. “After the victory of R. Reagan in the election, in early 1981, a secret agreement was reached in London in accord with which Iran released the American hostages, and the U.S. continued to supply arms, spares and military supplies for the Iranian army,” the Russian report continued.
The deliveries were carried out by Israel, often through private arms dealers, the Russian report said. [For text of the Russian report, click here. To view the U.S. embassy cable that contains the Russian report, click here.]