Reagan supporter met with leaders to influence 1980 election: NYT

US President Ronald W. Reagan in the Oval Office in 1985.
Diana Walker/Getty Images

  • GOP politician Ben Barnes said his mentor worked to influence the 1980 election in favor of Reagan.
  • Former Texas Governor John Connally has called on Middle Eastern leaders to delay the release of Iranian hostages.
  • “History should know this happened,” Barnes told The New York Times.

A former GOP Texas politician has come forward after four decades to say he saw his mentor, former Texas Governor John B. Connally Jr., meet with Middle Eastern leaders to deliver a message: don’t let not the free Iranian hostages before the 1980 elections. between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

Ben Barnes, speaking to The New York Times, said he accompanied Connally on a 1980 trip to six countries in the Middle East – Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel – and had seen his mentor ask various leaders to relay the Message to Iran. Barnes told The Times that Connally, who lost the Republican nomination to Reagan that year, hoped to help him win in order to secure an administration post.

Connally informed William J. Casey, then Reagan’s campaign manager, of the trip afterwards, according to Barnes. Casey asked Connally if they were “going to hold the hostages”, referring to Iran – ruled by Ayatollah Khomeini at the time – Barnes told The Times.

The Times noted that there was no confirmation beyond Barnes’ anecdote, but four people Barnes has confided in over the years said the story he shared with the newspaper was consistent with what he told them.

Both Connally and Casey died before Barnes presented his account – Connally in 1993 and Casey in 1987 – and did not publicly discuss the events he revealed during their lifetime.

In 1979, Iranian militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and captured dozens of Americans over what they believed to be undue US influence on their country’s politics. . The kidnappings resulted in more than a year of attempted negotiations and the failure of an informed rescue mission by the Carter administration.

In the 1980 election, Carter’s failure to free the hostages before the general election, and the news surrounding it, gave rise to the term “October Surprise”.

Casey, who came up with the term, told the media he feared Carter was planning to ensure the hostages were released just before voters headed to the polls to help sway their decision in his favor. However, this did not happen.

The captives were freed by the Iranian government minutes after Reagan’s inauguration as president.

Barnes told The Times that the purpose of the Middle East mission was to investigate the Iranian hostages, and Casey’s eagerness to gather details of the trip was proof of that for him.

“I will go to my grave believing that was the purpose of the trip,” Barnes told The Times. “It wasn’t freelance because Casey was so interested in hearing as soon as we got back to the States.”

The Times notes, however, that there is no evidence that Connally’s request to delay the release of the hostages ever came back to the Iranians or if it influenced their decision to release the hostages after the election. There is also no evidence that Reagan was aware of the meetings or not, but he contacted Connally at least once during the trip, according to historical documents reviewed by The Times.

Prior to Barnes’ interview with The Times, rumors had already swirled that actors associated with Reagan tried to influence the election using the Iran hostage crisis, but House and Senate panels concluded that there was no evidence that anyone associated with Reagan’s presidential campaign attempted to delay the release. hostages.

During his second term, Reagan was embroiled in a scandal after selling weapons to Iran despite a US trade embargo to free 7 American hostages in 1985.

Barnes told The Times he finally decided to share the trip details after news broke that Carter had admitted himself to hospice care.

“History should know that this happened,” Barnes, now 85, told The Times. “I think it’s so important and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter puts that on my mind more and more. I just feel like we have to do it. either way.”

Barnes and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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