WASHINGTON — It has been greater than 4 many years, however Ben Barnes mentioned he remembers it vividly. His longtime political mentor invited him on a mission to the Center East. What Barnes mentioned he didn’t notice till later was the true objective of the mission: to sabotage the reelection marketing campaign of the president of the USA.
It was 1980, and Jimmy Carter was within the White Home, bedeviled by a hostage disaster in Iran that had paralyzed his presidency and hampered his effort to win a second time period. Carter’s greatest probability for victory was to free the 52 People held captive earlier than Election Day. That was one thing that Barnes mentioned his mentor was decided to stop.
His mentor was John Connally Jr., a titan of U.S. politics and former Texas governor who had served three presidents and simply misplaced his personal bid for the White Home. A former Democrat, Connally had sought the Republican nomination in 1980 solely to be swamped by former Gov. Ronald Reagan of California. Now Connally resolved to assist Reagan beat Carter and within the course of, Barnes mentioned, make his personal case for turning into secretary of state or protection in a brand new administration.
What occurred subsequent, Barnes has largely stored secret for practically 43 years. Connally, he mentioned, took him to 1 Center Jap capital after one other that summer time, assembly with a number of regional leaders to ship a blunt message to be handed to Iran: Don’t launch the hostages earlier than the election. Reagan will win and provide you with a greater deal.
Then, shortly after returning house, Barnes mentioned, Connally reported to William J. Casey, the chairman of Reagan’s marketing campaign and later director of the CIA, briefing him concerning the journey in an airport lounge.
Carter’s camp has lengthy suspected that Casey or another person in Reagan’s orbit sought to secretly torpedo efforts to liberate the hostages earlier than the election, and books have been written on what got here to be referred to as the October shock. However congressional investigations debunked earlier theories of what occurred.
Connally didn’t determine in these investigations. His involvement, as described by Barnes, provides a brand new understanding to what could have occurred in that hard-fought, pivotal election 12 months. With Carter now 98 and in hospice care, Barnes mentioned he felt compelled to come back ahead to right the document.
“Historical past must know that this occurred,” Barnes, who turns 85 subsequent month, mentioned in one in all a number of interviews, his first with a information group concerning the episode. “I feel it’s so vital, and I assume understanding that the tip is close to for President Carter put it on my thoughts increasingly and extra. I simply really feel like we’ve obtained to get it down a way.”
Barnes isn’t any shady overseas arms supplier with questionable credibility, like a number of the characters who fueled earlier iterations of the October shock idea. He was as soon as one of the crucial distinguished figures in Texas, the youngest speaker of the Texas Home of Representatives and later lieutenant governor. He was such an influential determine that he helped a younger George W. Bush get into the Texas Air Nationwide Guard reasonably than be uncovered to the draft and despatched to Vietnam. Lyndon B. Johnson predicted that Barnes would turn out to be president sometime.
Confirming Barnes’ account is problematic after a lot time. Connally, Casey and different central figures have lengthy since died, and Barnes has no diaries or memos to corroborate his account. However he has no apparent purpose to make up the story and certainly expressed trepidation at going public due to the response of fellow Democrats.
Barnes recognized 4 dwelling individuals he mentioned he had confided in through the years: Mark Ok. Updegrove, president of the LBJ Basis; Tom Johnson, a former aide to Lyndon Johnson (no relation) who later turned writer of the Los Angeles Instances and president of CNN; Larry Temple, a former aide to Connally and Lyndon Johnson; and H.W. Manufacturers, a College of Texas historian.
All 4 of them confirmed in latest days that Barnes shared the story with them years in the past. “So far as I do know, Ben by no means has lied to me,” Tom Johnson mentioned, a sentiment the others echoed. Manufacturers included three paragraphs about Barnes’ recollections in a 2015 biography of Reagan, however the account generated little public discover on the time.
Information on the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum affirm a part of Barnes’ story. An itinerary discovered this previous week in Connally’s recordsdata indicated that he did, actually, go away Houston on July 18, 1980, for a visit that might take him to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel earlier than returning to Houston on Aug. 11. Barnes was listed as accompanying him.
Temporary information accounts on the time reported on a few of Connally’s stops with scant element, describing the journey as “strictly non-public.” An intriguing observe in Connally’s file confirms Barnes’ reminiscence that there was contact with the Reagan camp early within the journey. Below the heading “Governor Reagan,” a observe from an assistant reported to Connally on July 21: “Nancy Reagan referred to as — they’re at Ranch he desires to speak to you about being in on technique conferences.” There was no document of his response.
Barnes recalled becoming a member of Connally in early September to take a seat down with Casey to report on their journey throughout a three-hour assembly within the American Airways lounge at what was then referred to as the Dallas/Fort Price Regional Airport. An entry in Connally’s calendar discovered this previous week confirmed that he traveled to Dallas on Sept. 10. A search of Casey’s archives on the Hoover Establishment at Stanford College turned up no paperwork indicating whether or not he was in Dallas then or not.
Barnes mentioned he was sure the purpose of Connally’s journey was to get a message to the Iranians to carry the hostages till after the election. “I’ll go to my grave believing that it was the aim of the journey,” he mentioned. “It wasn’t freelancing as a result of Casey was so eager about listening to as quickly as we obtained again to the USA.” Casey, he added, wished to know whether or not “they had been going to carry the hostages.”
None of that establishes whether or not Ronald Reagan knew concerning the journey, nor might Barnes say that Casey directed Connally to take the journey. Likewise, he doesn’t know if the message transmitted to a number of Center Jap leaders obtained to the Iranians, a lot much less whether or not it influenced their decision-making. However Iran did maintain the hostages till after the election, which Reagan gained, and didn’t launch them till minutes after midday on Jan. 20, 1981, when Carter left workplace.
John Connally III, the previous governor’s eldest son, mentioned in an interview Friday that he remembered his father taking the Center East journey however by no means heard about any message to Iran. Whereas he didn’t be a part of the journey, the youthful Connally mentioned he accompanied his father to a gathering with Reagan to debate it with out Barnes, and the dialog centered on the Arab-Israeli battle and different points the following president would confront.
“No point out was made in any assembly I used to be in about any message being despatched to the Iranians,” mentioned Connally. “It doesn’t sound like my dad.” He added, “I can’t problem Ben’s reminiscence about it, but it surely’s not in keeping with my reminiscence of the journey.”
Suspicions concerning the Reagan camp’s interactions with Iran circulated quietly for years till Gary Sick, a former nationwide safety aide to Carter, printed a visitor essay in The New York Instances in April 1991 advancing the idea, adopted by a e-book, “October Shock,” printed that November.
The time period “October shock” was initially utilized by the Reagan camp to explain its fears that Carter would manipulate the hostage disaster to impact a launch simply earlier than the election.
To forestall such a situation, Casey was alleged to have met with representatives of Iran in July and August 1980 in Madrid resulting in a deal supposedly finalized in Paris in October by which a future Reagan administration would ship arms to Tehran, Iran, by way of Israel in alternate for the hostages being held till after the election.
The Home and Senate individually approved investigations, and each in the end rejected the claims. The bipartisan Home job pressure, led by a Democrat, Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, and managed by Democrats 8 to five, concluded in a consensus 968-page report that Casey was not in Madrid on the time and that tales of covert dealings weren’t backed by credible testimony, paperwork or intelligence reviews.
Nonetheless, a White Home memo produced in November 1991 by a lawyer for President George H.W. Bush reported the existence of “a cable from the Madrid embassy indicating that Invoice Casey was on the town, for functions unknown.” That memo was not turned over to Hamilton’s job pressure and was found twenty years later by Robert Parry, a journalist who helped produce a “Frontline” documentary on the October shock.
Reached by phone this previous week, Sick mentioned he by no means heard of any involvement by Connally however noticed Barnes’ account as verifying the broad issues he had raised. “That is actually very fascinating, and it actually does add considerably to the bottom stage of knowledge on this,” Sick mentioned. “Simply the truth that he was doing it and debriefed Casey when he obtained again means so much.” The story goes “additional than something that I’ve seen to this point,” he added. “So that is actually new.”
Michael Zeldin, a Democratic lawyer for the duty pressure, and David Laufman, a Republican lawyer for the duty pressure, each mentioned in latest interviews that Connally by no means crossed their radar display screen through the inquiry, so that they had no foundation to guage Barnes’ account.
Whereas Casey was by no means proved to have been engaged in any October-surprise dealmaking, he was later accused of surreptitiously acquiring a Carter marketing campaign briefing e-book earlier than the lone debate between the 2 candidates, though he denied involvement.
Information of Barnes’ account got here as validation to a few of Carter’s remaining advisers. Gerald Rafshoon, who was his White Home communications director, mentioned any interference could have modified historical past.
“If we had gotten the hostages house, we’d have gained; I actually imagine that,” he mentioned. “It’s fairly rattling outrageous.”
Connally was a political big of his period. Raised on a South Texas cotton farm, he served within the Navy in World Conflict II and have become a confidant of Lyndon Johnson, serving to run 5 of his campaigns, together with his disputed 1948 election to the Senate that was marred by credible allegations of fraud. Connally managed Johnson’s unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, then labored for the ticket of John F. Kennedy and Johnson. Connally was rewarded with an appointment as secretary of the Navy. He then gained a race for governor of Texas in 1962.
He was within the presidential limousine sitting simply in entrance of Kennedy in Dallas in November 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald opened fireplace. Connally suffered accidents to his again, chest, wrist and thigh, however not like Kennedy survived the ordeal. He gained two extra phrases as governor, then turned President Richard Nixon’s secretary of the Treasury and in the end switched events. He was a favourite of Nixon, who wished to make him his vp or successor as president.
Connally was indicted on prices of perjury and conspiracy to hinder justice in 1974, accused by prosecutors of taking $10,000 to assist a milk worth improve, however acquitted by a jury.
Alongside the best way, Connally discovered a political protégé in Barnes, who turned “extra a godson than a buddy,” as James Reston Jr. put it in “The Lone Star,” his biography of Connally. The son of a peanut farmer who paid for faculty promoting vacuum cleaners door to door, Barnes was elected to the Texas Legislature at age 21 and stood at Connally’s facet for his first speech as a candidate for governor in 1962.
With Connally’s assist, Barnes turned Home speaker at 26 and was later elected lieutenant governor, a strong place in Texas, solely to fall quick in his personal bid for governor in 1972. He urged Connally to run for president in 1980 although by then, they had been in several events.
After Connally’s marketing campaign collapsed, he and Barnes went into enterprise collectively, forming Barnes/Connally Investments. The 2 constructed residence complexes, purchasing facilities and workplace buildings, and purchased a commuter airline, an oil firm and later a barbecue home, a Western artwork journal, a title firm and an promoting firm. However they overextended themselves, took on an excessive amount of debt and, after falling oil costs shattered the Texas actual property market, filed for chapter in 1987.
The 2 stayed on good phrases. “Regardless of the disillusionment of our enterprise preparations, Ben Barnes and I stay mates, though I doubt that both of us would return into enterprise with the opposite,” Connally wrote in his memoir, In Historical past’s Shadow,” shortly earlier than dying in 1993 at age 76. Barnes, for his half, mentioned this previous week that “I stay an important fan of him.”
Barnes mentioned he had no concept of the aim of the Center East journey when Connally invited him. They traveled to the area on a Gulfstream jet owned by Superior Oil. Solely once they sat down with the primary Arab chief did Barnes be taught what Connally was as much as, he mentioned.
Connally mentioned, “‘Look, Ronald Reagan’s going to be elected president, and it’s essential get the phrase to Iran that they’re going to make a greater cope with Reagan than they’re Carter,’” Barnes recalled. “He mentioned, ‘It might be very good so that you can go the phrase to the Iranians to attend till after this basic election is over.’ And boy, I let you know, I’m sitting there, and I heard it, and so now it dawns on me, I notice why we’re there.”
Barnes mentioned that, apart from Israel, Connally repeated the identical message at each cease within the area to leaders comparable to President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt. He thought his buddy’s motive was clear: “It turned very clear to me that Connally was working for secretary of state or secretary of protection,” Barnes mentioned. (Connally was later provided power secretary however declined.)
Barnes mentioned he didn’t reveal the true story on the time to keep away from blowback from his personal get together. “I don’t need to appear like Benedict Arnold to the Democratic Celebration by collaborating on this,” he recalled explaining to a buddy. The headlines on the time, he imagined, would have been scandalous. “I didn’t need that to be on my obituary in any respect.”
However because the years have handed, he mentioned, he has usually thought an injustice had been completed to Carter. Discussing the journey now, he indicated, was his means of creating amends.
“I simply need historical past to replicate that Carter obtained somewhat little bit of a nasty deal concerning the hostages,” he mentioned. “He didn’t have a combating probability with these hostages nonetheless within the embassy in Iran.”
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