Archivists at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Wednesday said they could find no evidence in 1980 campaign files that Reagan campaign officials conspired to delay the release of American hostages from Iran until after his election.
The review of Reagan campaign files is expected to be the first of many widely publicized searches for possible historical nuggets buried among Reagan's presidential and personal papers in the library near Simi Valley, which is scheduled to open to the public Nov. 4.
Ralph C. Bledsoe, a former Reagan White House aide who is library director, said he and his National Archives staff spent days sifting through more than 100,000 pages of a 1-million-page collection of campaign records kept with other presidential papers in the basement of the library.
In a letter to the former President, Bledsoe said, ". . . no documents were located to indicate that anyone associated with the Reagan-Bush campaign had contacts with Iranians or other foreign representatives in which a delay in the release of hostages was discussed."
Reagan formally requested the search of his campaign files last month to "clear the air of this unsubstantiated allegation" that his 1980 campaign sought to block then-President Jimmy Carter from springing an "October Surprise"--freeing the hostages and emerging as a hero only days before facing Reagan at the polls.
Bill Garber, Reagan's spokesman, said the former President "is grateful to the National Archives for their prompt and accurate review and hopes that this clears up this matter once and for all."
But House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) is considering a formal investigation into the allegations that Reagan campaign officials made a secret deal to permit arms shipments to Iran in exchange for delaying the release of the 52 hostages.
On Wednesday, several of the former hostages visited Foley's office and met with other members of Congress to lobby for a formal inquiry, said Foley spokesman Jeff Biggs. In his daily briefing with reporters Wednesday, Foley promised a decision before Congress recesses in August.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is also looking into the allegations and considering an appeal by Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) to establish a bipartisan committee to investigate the matter.
Gary Sick, a former Carter National Security Council aide, said the National Archives review of campaign records in Simi Valley does nothing to disprove new evidence that he uncovered of a series of secret meetings involving Iranian officials and the late CIA director William J. Casey. In 1980, Casey was Reagan's campaign manager.
"We don't know what kind of documents were there," Sick said in a statement. "The Casey papers were not part of the documents, and they are obviously a matter of great interest."
Bledsoe, in his letter to Reagan, reported that "no documents were found relating to William Casey's schedule or his overseas travel."
Former attorney general Edwin Meese III, chief of staff of the 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign, said he was not surprised by Bledsoe's report. "I obviously had responsibility of the campaign committee," Meese said. "At no time did I hear any suggestion of delaying the release of the hostages or any dealings with the Iranians."
Bledsoe said he and three professional archivists spent several days searching through campaign briefing books, research files, schedule planning and trip files, expense reports, strategy memos and the correspondence of key Reagan-Bush campaign officials from July, 1980, through October, 1980.
Under the law, the campaign records are considered Reagan's personal papers and can be shielded from public scrutiny as long as Reagan or his heirs desire. Bledsoe said the library is holding papers as a courtesy to Reagan under a "deed of deposit" that specifies that archivists cannot touch the records without Reagan's permission.
The campaign records are being kept with an estimated 55 million pages of documents generated during Reagan's eight years in the White House. These official presidential records are public property but most of them face a variety of restrictions that will prevent their public release for years.
For instance, documents about foreign affairs or national security, including undisclosed details about the Iran-Contra affair, may remain secret for a generation or more.
The hostages were an issue in the 1980 campaign because Reagan portrayed Carter as ineffective at winning their release. The 52 U. S. citizens were held in the U. S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days and finally freed on Jan. 21, 1981, minutes after Reagan was sworn in as President.