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1980 Deal Alleged : Leads, Leaps of Faith in Hostage Tale

October 25, 1988|DOYLE McMANUS | Times Staff Writer

Rupp's own lawyer, Daniel Burerah, said he doesn't know whether to believe his client or not. "I've never come across anything as crazy as this," he said. "As far as the truthfulness of the guy, I really don't know."

Most of Brenneke's statements have proven difficult or impossible to confirm. He claimed in his testimony to have worked for the CIA for 18 years, much of that in Air America, the now-defunct airline the agency once owned. But the CIA, in a virtually unprecedented action, has told reporters that Brenneke never worked for the agency; and William Leary, a University of Georgia professor who has written the history of Air America, says neither Brenneke nor Rupp appears in the company's personnel records.

Brenneke has been talking to reporters for more than two years, offering detailed but unconfirmable stories about his life as a secret agent, gun-runner and occasional drug pilot. He has claimed that he supplied explosives to a Palestine Liberation Organization training camp located in western Oregon; Oregon law enforcement officials say they know of no such camp. He has talked of flying weapons to the CIA-supported Nicaraguan rebels, or Contras, and of working on secret shipments of U.S. weapons to Iran, but congressional investigators say they have been unable to confirm those claims.

Chain of Sources

Not until last month, however, did Brenneke mention any meetings with Bush and Casey in Paris. His new testimony on that score came only after Honegger told him, in August, of reports that such a meeting had occurred. Honegger, in turn, apparently received her first reports of the alleged Paris meetings from Bani-Sadr; and Bani-Sadr learned of them from a friend in Iran whom he refused to identify.

Bani-Sadr himself says he isn't sure he believes that Bush ever flew to any secret meetings in Paris.

"It is very difficult for me to believe that a candidate for vice president would participate in such a rendezvous," he said. "That would be very dangerous, very risky, because if it were discovered it would be his political death. I can imagine such a thing but whether it is true or not I do not have the slightest idea."

But Honegger is undeterred.

"Some people have doubts about Dick Brenneke's credibility, I know," she said firmly. "I don't."

The controversy, however shaky its roots, is unlikely to go away.

On Monday, a Los Angeles lawyer who sued the federal government and the Khomeini regime on behalf of 13 of the Tehran hostages announced that he is now preparing a suit against the estate of Casey, against the 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign--and possibly against Bush as well.

The lawyer, James H. Davis, said he believes the Reagan campaign may have violated the law by seeking a private deal with Iran, and probably also undercut the position of the Carter Administration's negotiators--and that may have prolonged his clients' ordeal.

"The result to my clients was they were not only kept longer, 2 1/2 months longer . . . but it also hobbled our negotiators in dealing with Iran," Davis said.

"Once we file, we will at least have the power to subpoena these people to get their sworn testimony on what happened," Davis said. "Won't that be interesting?"

Staff writers William C. Rempel in Los Angeles, Michael Ross in Cairo and Rone Tempest in Paris also contributed to this story.

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