WASHINGTON -- Eight Americans held hostage in Iran during the Carter presidency called yesterday for a full-scale congressional investigation of allegations that the Reagan-Bush campaign conspired to delay their release.
"The question of whether there is evidence of wrongdoing must be answered by an unbiased, bipartisan congressional investigation with full subpoena power," the former hostages said in an open letter to Congress.
"Unless this happens, speculation and unanswered questions will erode public confidence in our electoral system," they added.
The letter was signed by Charles Scott, Barry Rosen, Moorhead Kennedy, Jerry Plotkin, David Roeder, Robert Ode, Kevin Hermening and Donald Hohman.
They were among the Americans taken hostage when radicals overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979. Fifty-two hostages were released 444 days later on Jan. 20, 1981, minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president.
The letter was released at a news conference during which Representative Butler Derrick, D-S.C., said congressional leaders would decide within the next two weeks whetherto authorize a formal investigation.
House investigators have been conducting an informal inquiry since the April 15 publication of an article by Gary Sick, a National Security Council staff member during the hostage crisis.
Mr. Sick, now a professor at Columbia University, wrote in the New York Times that he found evidence to support old suspicions that Reagan-Bush campaign strategists worked secretly with Iranians to delay the release of the hostages until after the 1980 election.
The hostage issue was a major influence on the election, in which Mr. Reagan crushed Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Sick said his suspicions intesified because the Iranians began to receive large supplies of weapons -- through Israel -- shortly after the Reagan inaugural.
Mr. Kennedy had previously written to President Bush to tell him that the allegations were a taint on the Republican Party that had to be cleared up.
Following yesterday's news conference, the White House released a copy of a May 9 letter from Mr. Bush to Mr. Kennedy in which the president denied any involvement in an attempt to use the hostages for political purposes.
"I am disappointed that you would feel that I might have been a participant in a scheme to keep any American held hostage," the president wrote. "I emphatically deny any such complicity."