Dead, Casey proves boon to Bush in deflecting hostage questions

ROGER SIMON l

June 23, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

Years ago there was a wheeler-dealer member of the Maryland legislature who had the good sense to die when he did.

And, for some time thereafter, whenever embarrassing questions would surface about this deal or that in Annapolis, the other legislators would simply blame everything on him.

They knew he would not have minded. Blaming things on the dead is one of the best things you can do in politics. It has saved many a career.

Currently, the best dead target in America is Bill Casey, former director of the CIA and former Bush-Reagan campaign chairman.

Casey had the foresight to die in 1987, while America was still learning the true extent of the scandals within the Reagan-Bush administration.

The Iran-contra scandal was the big deal at the time, and many thought George Bush's chances of becoming president in 1988 would be hurt by it.

Dan Rather of CBS News prepared a long segment on Bush's alleged role in that scandal and "tricked" Bush into going on the air to talk about it. (Bush claims he was tricked. CBS denies he was tricked. Some think Roger Ailes, Bush's media wizard, actually tricked CBS into making it look like they were tricking George Bush.)

Anyway, nobody much remembers what Bush's role was or wasn't in that scandal, because Bush and Rather started shouting at each other on live network TV, and that's what made the headlines.

And, as it turned out, George Bush was never hurt by Iran-contra.

There is another possible scandal, however, that could hurt Bush. It involves the accusation that Reagan and Bush arranged a secret deal with the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1980 to delay the release of the American hostages in Tehran until Reagan could be elected president.

During the 1980 campaign, the Reagan forces openly worried that Jimmy Carter, the incumbent president, would manage to get the hostages out before Election Day, thereby boosting his chances for re-election.

So the question is: Did Reagan and Bush really deal with the ayatollah, thereby keeping the hostages in captivity for extra months?

And one probable answer is: Who cares, as long as we can blame it on Bill Casey?

Ted Koppel of "Nightline" did a special show on this last week. It was special because Koppel did not use the regular "Nightline" set or format. It was just Koppel and Jeff Greenfield revealing what they, along with the Financial Times of London, had learned about the story.

Koppel began by saying that if there had been a deal between the Reagan-Bush campaign and the ayatollah, "it would be an act of political treachery bordering on treason."

That's a little strong, but it would at least make George Bush very, very unpopular just as he heads into his own re-election campaign.

Basically, what Koppel had was an off-camera interview with an Iranian arms dealer who claims that Bill Casey, chairman of the Reagan-Bush campaign, went to Madrid in July 1980 and later to Paris and made a deal with the Iranians to hang onto the hostages until Carter was safely defeated.

"Nightline" was not able to prove that Casey was at such a meeting -- or even that such a meeting took place -- but it was not able to account for where Casey was on three days in July 1980.

During these three days, the implication is, Casey might have been in Madrid betraying his country on behalf of Reagan and Bush.

Or Casey may have been in England at a cricket match. Or at La Jolla surfing. Or at Ocean City eating crabs. Or sleeping on his sun porch. We don't know.

Near the end of the report, there was this exchange:

Koppel: "Jeff, without getting into the issue of how conclusive that kind of information is, shouldn't there be some kind of way for the Casey estate or former colleagues of William Casey to come up with similar kinds of documentation that would clear his name?"

Greenfield: "I think that's the $64 million question. There are, to be sure, hundreds of uncataloged boxes of Reagan campaign material awaiting cataloging out in California. They can be gone through with respect to Casey. I believe Casey's family ought to be sifting through the material they have in their home, to try to nail down these stories -- credit card receipts, telephone logs. If Casey wasn't in Paris or in Madrid, it ought to be provable."

But as much as I respect "Nightline," Koppel and Greenfield, this jarred me a little.

Why would the Casey family bother to prove anything to a bunch of journalists they don't like? Why would they be sifting through boxes to prove where Casey was? (And would Casey, a security professional, leave such stuff behind?)

The family might feel that people in America don't have to prove themselves innocent of anything, not even when accused by "Nightline."

True, their sifting might "clear his name." But who's muddying that name in the first place? An Iranian arms dealer who doesn't have the guts to go on camera and makes his accusations openly?

No, I don't think we can depend on the Casey family to make the case for us.

We could, of course, simply ask Ronald Reagan and George Bush what they did.

And reporters have asked them this.

Ronald Reagan denied any personal wrongdoing in this matter.

George Bush denied any personal wrongdoing in this matter.

But could Bill Casey have done this terrible thing all by him- self without telling either of them?

Well, yes, that is always possible.

Dead guys are like that. Always getting in trouble.

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