January Surprise

January 17, 1993

It comes as something of a surprise that in January 1993, accusations about arms for hostages in Iran and about false, cover-up testimony to Congress are being leveled -- at a Democrat. That is exactly what has been happening in recent days in connection with Warren Christopher's confirmation hearings to be secretary of state.

Mr. Christopher was accused of proposing a deal involving arms and money in order to get the 52 U.S. hostages out of the embassy in Iran in 1980. On an unrelated issue, he is accused of having known of Army surveillance of anti-Vietnam War demonstrators while he was deputy attorney general in the Lyndon Johnson administration in the 1960s, then denying that when being confirmed for deputy secretary of state in the Carter administration in the 1970s.

As for the first point, it has long been known in general if not in all the details that the Carter administration was negotiating with Iran to get the embassy hostages released, and that frozen Iranian assets, including military equipment, were among the items being discussed.

As for the misleading testimony about what he knew of spying on war protesters, it appears to us that Mr. Christopher didn't lie, but didn't exactly tell the whole truth, either. That is often standard operating procedure in Washington. In fact, you probably could not run the government without it. In fact, much (but not all) of the Iran-contra obstruction of Congress fell in that category.

Mr. Christopher's role in the earlier hostage negotiations was brought back to public attention by a report from a special House Foreign Affairs Committee task force that investigated charges that Reagan campaign representatives, including George Bush, interferred with Carter administration efforts to get the hostages released in 1980. The Reagan representatives allegedly did not want President Carter to get any electoral benefit from a successful effort. That heinous accusation, which became known as the "October surprise" conspiracy, is supported by "no credible evidence," Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, said flatly in releasing the new report.

Specifically, the Hamilton task force report clears President Bush and the others charged with wrongdoing in the 1980 campaign. Generally, it is a welcome reminder of something that many politicians and commentators seem to have forgotten or ignored in recent years. There's not always fire when there's smoke.

Coming together, the raising of the charges against Mr. Christopher and the burial of the charges against the Reagan campaign make an appropriate coincidence. They suggest that now might be a good time for Democrats and Republicans to forget about such old ghost stories, which have little relevance to today's national problems, and get on with the business at hand.

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