Reagan allies ‘collaborated with Iran during hostage crisis to sabotage Carter’s re-election’
A Texas politician has claimed he worked with a senior member of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign to persuade Iran to delay the release of its hostages during the 1979 crisis in a bid to thwart Jimmy Carter’s re-election candidate.
Ben Barnes, former lieutenant governor of Texas, has claimed in an interview with The New York Times that John Connally Jr. — once the governor of the same state and a senior member of Reagan’s campaign team — took him on a secret diplomatic tour of the Middle East as part of a plan to harm Carter by convincing Iran to hold its American hostages until after the election.
Mr. Carter was US President when 52 diplomats and US citizens were taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran by college students who supported the Iranian revolution.
Despite diplomatic efforts from the White House, the hostages have been held for 444 days and the political crisis has severely damaged the Democratic president’s bid for re-election. Mr. Carter was badly defeated by his Republican rival in the 1980 election.
The hostages were released minutes after Reagan was sworn in as US President on January 20, 1981.
According to Mr. Barnes, Connally took him to several Middle Eastern capitals to lobby regional leaders and convince Tehran that they would get a better deal from Republican candidate Reagan if they held the hostages until after the election.
Mr Barnes told the newspaper that he was persuaded to submit his report by the news last month that Mr Carter was receiving home hospice care.
“History needs to know what happened,” Mr Barnes told the newspaper. “I think it’s so significant, and I think knowing that President Carter’s end is near has reminded me more and more of that. I just feel like we have to get it down somehow.”
According to the newspaper, records in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library show that Connally and Mr Barnes left Houston on July 18, 1980 for a trip to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel and returned to the US on July 11. August.
Mr Barnes said he was certain the reason for the trip was to get the message across to Iran to hold the hostages until after the election.
He claimed that when the two met the first of several Middle Eastern leaders, Connally told them, “Look, Ronald Reagan is elected President and you have to tell Iran that you’re going to get a better deal with Reagan than.” Carter.”
Mr Barnes added: “He [Connally] said: ‘It would be very wise for you to tell the Iranians to wait until these general elections are over.’ And boy I’m telling you I’m sitting there and I heard it and now it’s dawning on me I understand why we’re here.
“I will go to my grave and believe that this was the purpose of the journey.”
Mr. Barnes does not claim that Reagan, who won two terms as US President, knew anything about the trip, but Mr. Barnes told the New York Times that Connally briefed Reagan’s campaign chairman, William Casey, when she went to the US returned.
Mr. Barnes claimed that Casey, who later became director of the CIA under Reagan, wanted to know if “they were holding the hostages”.
“It wasn’t freelance because Casey was so keen to hear once we got back to the United States.”
In 1992 and again in 1993, Congress conducted separate investigations into alleged collusion between the Reagan campaign and Tehran and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The timing of the hostages’ release has fueled conspiracy theories and allegations over the years that Reagan’s team conspired with Iran to prevent the release and prevent Mr Carter from staging an “October surprise” – a news event just before a presidential election, which could affect the vote in favor of a candidate.
The Reagan administration has been accused by some – most notably former Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr – of rewarding Tehran by supplying arms to the regime and freeing up Iranian assets held in US banks.
Connally died in 1993. His eldest son, John Connally III, told the New York Times he remembered his father making the trip but was unaware of any communications with Iran.
He said: “In no meeting I attended was there any mention of a message being sent to the Iranians. It doesn’t sound like my father.”
Casey died in 1987 while Reagan died in 2004.
Mr. Barnes, a Democrat, was a fundraiser for John Kerry’s failed presidential bid in 2004 and served as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.