March 19, 2023 | 5:57 p.m.
Former President Jimmy Carter, seated at his desk in the Oval Office of the White House, recounts the failure of the rescue effort to get the 53 American hostages out of Iran.
A dirty political deal has finally come to light.
Former Texas politician Ben Barnes claims his political mentor, Governor John Connally Jr., persuaded Middle Eastern leaders to keep American hostages in Iran locked up until the 1980 election that put Ronald Reagan in the House White.
With former President Jimmy Carter, 98, now in hospice care, Barnes, 84, told the New York Times he wanted to reveal his role in a covert operation that ended in the loss of re-election for Carter.
“History should know this happened,” Barnes told The Times. “I think that’s so important and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter puts that on my mind more and more.”
In his interview, Barnes recounted how nervous the United States was as Carter tried to negotiate the freedom of 52 Americans held captive in 1979 by a group of militarized Iranian students.
And with the 1980 election approaching during the 444 Day Incident, the outcome of the crisis was seen as the defining moment of Carter’s presidency.
Barnes alleged that Connally had pledged to stall negotiations and invited him on a trip to several Middle Eastern capitals to urge leaders not to free the hostages because Reagan would offer a better deal, The Times reported. .
Barnes’ claims echo those of the so-called October Surprise Theory, in which Carter supporters have long claimed that pro-Regan operatives covertly influenced the outcome of the 1980 election through the Crisis of hostages in Iran.
Barnes, who at 26 became the youngest speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, was advised by Connally, the Times reported.
And though both began their careers as Democrats, they rose to prominence as GOP influencers.
According to government records, flight logs show Barnes accompanied Connally on the July 18, 1980 trip from Houston to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, The Times reported.
During the tour, Barnes alleged that Connally had led the nations’ leaders to believe that the crisis situation should not be resolved until Election Day.
Barnes recalled Connally saying, “‘Listen, Ronald Reagan is going to be elected president and you have to let Iran know that they’re going to get a better deal with Reagan than with Carter. “He said, ‘It would be very smart for you to tell Iranians to wait until after this general election.’ »
The two returned to Texas on August 11, 1980, and the following month Barnes claimed to have met William Casey, Reagan campaign chairman and future CIA director, at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport to report their trip.
Flight records confirm Casey flew to Dallas on Sept. 10, The Times reported.
Barnes told The Times he was initially unsure what the trip with Connally was about and why he was invited.
But he told The Times he believed Connally completed the assignment in an effort to secure a “secretary of state or defense” seat in the Reagan administration.
Connally, who died in 1993, was later offered the job of energy secretary, which he turned down.
While four other sources to whom Barnes confided his secret confirmed to The Times that the details have remained consistent over the decades, the validity of the claims remains up in the air.
Connally’s family told The Times they do not believe he passed on any messages to the Iranians.
Casey, who is also deceased and previously the subject of scrutiny for the October surprise theory, has long maintained that he did not sabotage Carter’s campaign.
Neither man has ever been charged with wrongdoing.
Barnes told The Times he wanted to set the record straight after Carter was admitted to hospice care.
“I just want the story to reflect that Carter had a bad deal with the hostages,” Barnes said. “He had no chance of fighting with those hostages still in the embassy in Iran.”