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Reagan Library Finds No Evidence of Deal to Delay Hostages' Release : Inquiry: More than 100,000 pages of former President's campaign files were examined. Critics contend that officials conspired to postpone freedom for 52 Americans until after 1980 election.

July 18, 1991|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SIMI VALLEY — 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.

Ralph C. Bledsoe, an aide in the Reagan White House for eight years and director of the new Reagan library, said he and his 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, which is scheduled to open Nov. 4.

"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," Bledsoe said in a letter to Reagan.

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 in the 1980 election.

The hostages were an issue in the 1980 campaign because Reagan portrayed Carter as ineffective in winning their release. The 52 U.S. citizens, held in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days, were freed Jan. 21, 1981, minutes after Reagan was sworn in as President.

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 Gary Sick, a former National Security Council aide under Carter, said the National Archives review of campaign records in Simi Valley does nothing to disprove new evidence he says he uncovered of a series of secret meetings involving Iranian officials and the late CIA Director William J. Casey, who in 1980 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. They are particularly significant."

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 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 breaks for recess 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 special bipartisan committee to investigate the matter, said committee spokesman Frank Sieverts.

Bledsoe, in his letter to Reagan, reported that "no documents were found relating to William Casey's schedule or his overseas travel."

Although Casey's widow has not donated her husband's papers to the library, Bledsoe said he found several documents from Casey in the campaign files.

Bledsoe said he and three professional archivists searched 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 through October, 1980.

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