Reagan supporters 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 sway the 1980 election in favor of Reagan.
  • Former Texas Gov. John Connally has asked Middle East leaders to delay the release of Iranian hostages.
  • “History needs to know that this happened,” Barnes told the New York Times.

A former Texas GOP politician came forward after four decades and said he saw his mentor, former Texas Gov. John B. Connally Jr., at a meeting with Middle East leaders to deliver a message: Let They did not free the Iranian hostages until after the 1980 election between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

Speaking to The New York Times, Ben Barnes said he accompanied Connally on a 1980 tour of six Middle Eastern countries – Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel – and watched his mentor plead with various leaders to pass this message on 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 a position in the administration.

Connally briefed William J. Casey, Reagan’s campaign manager at the time, about the trip afterward, Barnes said. Casey asked Connally if “they were holding the hostages,” referring to Iran — then led by Ayatollah Khomeini — Barnes told the Times.

The Times noted that there is no confirmation beyond Barnes’ anecdote, but four people Barnes has trusted over the years said the story he told the paper matches what he told them.

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

In 1979, Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and captured dozens of Americans, believing that the United States had undue influence over their country’s politics. The kidnappings led to over a year of attempted negotiations and a failed rescue mission that was greenlit by the Carter administration.

During the 1980 election, Carter’s failure to release the hostages before the general election and the related news was where the term “October Surprise” came from.

Casey, who came up with the term, told outlets they feared Carter was planning to secure the hostages’ release just before voters went to the polls in order to sway their decision in his favour. However, this did not happen.

The prisoners were freed by the Iranian government minutes after Reagan was inaugurated as president.

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

“I’m going to go to my grave and believe that was the purpose of the trip,” Barnes told the Times. “It wasn’t freelance because Casey was so keen to hear once we got back to the United States.”

However, the Times notes that there is no evidence that Connally’s call to delay the release of hostages ever got through to the Iranians, or whether it influenced their decision to release the hostages after the election. There is also no evidence as to whether or not Reagan knew of the meetings, but he did contact Connally at least once during the trip, according to historical documents reviewed by the Times.

Prior to Barnes’ interview with the Times, rumors were circulating that Reagan-related actors may have attempted to influence the election through the Iran hostage crisis, but House and Senate panels have concluded that there is no evidence to back this up that someone connected to Reagan’s presidential campaign was trying to delay the release of the hostages.

During his second term, Reagan became embroiled in a scandal after selling arms to Iran despite a US trade embargo to release seven American hostages in 1985.

Barnes told the Times he finally decided to share the details of the trip after Carter was admitted to a hospice.

“History needs to know that this happened,” Barnes, now 85, told the Times. “I think it’s so significant, and I think knowing that President Carter’s end is near has brought more and more to my mind. I just feel like we have to get it down somehow.”

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

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