Probe finds no 1980 deal to delay hostage release Panel says GOP skirted impropriety

November 24, 1992|By Michael Ross | Michael Ross,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- A Senate investigation has failed to find "credible evidence" to support allegations that officials from Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign sought to delay until after the 1980 elections the release of U.S. hostages being held in Iran, according to a report issued yesterday.

But the Near East subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of two congressional panels engaged in a yearlong probe of the allegations, said the Reagan-Bush campaign operated "on the outer limits of propriety" in gathering its own intelligence on the crisis.

It also painted an unflattering portrait of the late William J. Casey, President Reagan's 1980 campaign director and later CIA director. Mr. Casey, the report said, was a man both "strongly committed to the proposition that the ends justify the means" and "intensely involved in the hostage crisis" during the 1980 campaign.

"The totality of the evidence does suggest that Casey was 'fishing in troubled waters' and that he conducted informal, clandestine and potentially dangerous efforts on behalf of the Reagan campaign to gather intelligence on the volatile and unpredictable course of the hostage negotiations between the Carter administration and Iran," said the report, which was prepared by special committee counsel Reid Weingarten, a Washington attorney.

On the issue of whether Mr. Casey sought to assure Mr. Reagan's victory by sabotaging President Jimmy Carter's efforts to secure the release of the hostages, thereby preventing an "October surprise" before the election, Mr. Weingarten concluded that the "great weight of the evidence is that there was no such deal."

All of the "primary sources" for the allegations, a shadowy assortment of Israeli, Iranian and U.S. arms dealers, proved themselves "wholly unreliable" through testimony that was "riddled with inconsistencies and . . . contradicted by irrefutable documentary evidence," the report said.

Republicans hailed the 156-page report as proof that the long-rumored allegations about a secret deal over the timing of the hostages' release were false.

"We found no secret agreement between the Reagan campaign and the ayatollah [Ruhollah Khomeini]," said Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., the subcommittee's ranking Republican, referring to Iran's late spiritual and political leader.

"We were charged with putting the rumors to rest, and I believe we have," he said.

But Mr. Weingarten, though he said he could find "no credible evidence" to support the allegations, also cautioned that his investigation was too limited to answer many of the questions it raised and that a more definitive verdict would not be available until a more extensive House probe is completed next month.

Among those questions, the Senate report said, are several that relate to Mr. Casey's contacts with Cyrus Hashemi, one of the Iranian middlemen who alleged that the late CIA director participated in a series of meetings in Madrid and Paris that culminated in an Iranian agreement to delay the release of the 52 hostages in return for the secret sale of arms to the ayatollah's government.

After spending 444 days in captivity, the hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981, the day Mr. Reagan was inaugurated, and the shipment of arms to Iran via Israel began shortly after that.

Mr. Weingarten, who was hired by the subcommittee, said his $75,000 budget was not enough to conduct the probe or to surmount what he said seemed to be "a willful effort" by current and former government officials to "obstruct the investigation."

He said government agencies did not respond to requests to produce documents, including Mr. Casey's passports.

Central witnesses to the alleged hostage scandal also were "wholly unreliable," and many events and meetings they recounted were disproved or were riddled with holes, the panel report said.

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