A Texas politician claims he worked with a senior Ronald Reagan presidential campaign official in 1980 to convince Iran to delay the release of its hostages during the 1979 crisis in an effort to derail Jimmy’s re-election bid Carter.
Ben Barnes, the former lieutenant governor of Texas, claimed in an interview with the New York Times that John Connally Jr – once governor of the same state and a high-ranking member of Reagan’s election team – took him to a secret diplomatic tour of the Middle East as part of a scheme to harm Carter by convincing Iran to keep its American hostages until after the election.
Mr Carter was the US President when 52 US diplomats and citizens were taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran by students who supported the Iranian revolution.
Despite diplomatic efforts by the White House, the hostages were held for 444 days and the political crisis has significantly hurt the Democratic president’s bid for re-election. Mr Carter was heavily beaten 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.
Barnes says Connally took him to several Middle Eastern capitals to lobby regional leaders to convince Tehran they would get a better offer from Republican candidate Reagan if they held the hostages until after the election. .
Mr Barnes told the newspaper he was persuaded to come forward with his story when he learned last month that Mr Carter was receiving hospice care at home.
“History should know what happened,” Mr Barnes told the newspaper. “I think that’s so important and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter has pushed that on my mind more and more. I just feel like we have to bring it down one way or another.
According to the newspaper, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library records show that Connally and Mr. Barnes left Houston on July 18, 1980 to visit Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, and returned to the United States on August 11.
Mr Barnes said he was certain the reason for the trip was to convey the message to Iran to hold the hostages until after the election.
He claimed that when the couple met the first of a number of Middle Eastern leaders, Connally told them, “Listen, Ronald Reagan is going to be elected president and you have to let Iran know they’re going make a better deal. with Reagan than they are Carter.
Mr. Barnes added: “It [Connally] said, “It would be very smart if you spread the word to the Iranian people to wait for the end of these general elections. And boy, I’m telling you, I’m sitting here and I heard it and now it comes to mind, I realize why we’re here.
“I will go to my grave believing that was the purpose of the trip.”
Mr Barnes is not suggesting that Reagan, who won two terms as US president, knew about the trip, but Mr Barnes told The New York Times that Connally informed Reagan’s campaign chairman William Casey , upon their return to the United States.
Mr Barnes claimed that Casey, who later served as CIA director under Reagan, wanted to know if ‘they were going to hold the hostages’.
“It wasn’t freelance because Casey was so interested in hearing as soon as we got back to the 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 over the years given rise to conspiracy theories and allegations that Reagan’s team conspired with Iran to prevent the release and prevent Mr. Carter to pull off an “October Surprise” – an event shortly before a presidential election that could sway the vote in favor of a candidate.
The Reagan administration has been accused by some – including former Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr – of rewarding Tehran by supplying arms to the regime and releasing Iranian assets held in US banks.
Connally died in 1993. His eldest son, John Connally III, told The New York Times that he remembered his father making the trip but was unaware of any communication with Iran.
He said: “No mention was made in any meeting I attended about a message being sent to the Iranians. It doesn’t look like my dad.
Casey died in 1987, while Reagan died in 2004.
Mr. Barnes, a Democrat, was a fundraiser for John Kerry’s failed bid for president in 2004 and served as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.