Some have said that the Trump-Russia connection was the first time that an American election was allegedly effected by candidate involvement with a foreign government. That’s not true. There have been other examples. In fact, the idea of a late-campaign manipulation has been given its own name. It’s called an “October Surprise.”
Politico notes 15 times in history when an “Ocbober Surprise” was manufactured to win an election, including 1920, when a rumor was spread that Warren G. Harding had Black blood in his veins. It was compared to the recent Obama “birther” rumor.
There have actually been times when a foreign country was directly involved.
1968: Nixon Derails LBJ’s Vietnam Peace Talks
William Casey, a Nixon aide later credited with coining the term “October Surprise,” was suspicious that as the 1968 election raged, President Johnson would try to engineer a last-minute peace deal in Vietnam in an attempt to throw the election to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Casey was right to be suspicious—shortly before the election, LBJ announced a halt to bombing and the start of new peace talks between Saigon and the Viet Cong. In the polls, Humphrey briefly pulled ahead of Richard Nixon.
When Nixon heard of Johnson’s maneuvering, he responded by reaching out to South Vietnam’s president Nguyen Van Thieu through backchannels, encouraging him to not attend peace talks and assuring him that if Nixon won the presidency, South Vietnam could expect stronger support from his administration than it would get from Johnson or Humphrey.
That was an example of a private citizen interfering with American foreign policy. That’s what Trump’s fired national security advisor, Michael Flynn, is being investigated about.
It’s charged that another candidate interfered in American policy for his own, personal gain. That was in the campaign of 1980. More than anything else, Jimmy Carter was unpopular because American diplomats were taken hostage in Iran. Carter tried to rescue them with military action, but failed.
Diplomacy also failed. But some say that was because Ronald Reagan extended the “hostage crisis” by negotiating behind Carter’s back. Then, suspiciously, the hostages were released just 15 minutes after Reagan’s inauguration, on January 20, 1981.
The History Channel provides a fairly complete explanation.
Wikipedia offers a timeline.
March 1980: Jamshid Hashimi, international arms dealer, is visited by William Casey at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, who asks that a meeting be arranged with “someone in Iran who had authority to deal on the hostages”.
March 21, 1980: Jamshid Hashimi and his brother Cyrus Hashimi meet at the latter’s home.
April 1980: Donald Gregg, a U.S. National Security Council aide with connections to George Bush, meets Cyrus Hashimi in New York’s Shazam restaurant, near Hashimi’s bank. Former Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr said in his 1991 book My Turn to Speak that he had “proof of contacts between Khomeini and the supporters of Ronald Reagan as early as the spring of 1980…. Rafsanjani, Beheshti, and Ahmed Khomeini [the Ayatollah’s son] played key roles.”
Last week of July 1980: At a meeting in Madrid arranged by the Hashimi brothers that includes Robert Gray, a man identified as Donald Gregg, and Mahdi Karrubi, William Casey says that if Iran could assure that American hostages were well treated until their release and were released as a “gift” to the new administration, “the Republicans would be most grateful and ‘would give Iran its strength back.'” Karrubi says he has “no authority to make such a commitment.”
About August 12, 1980: Karrubi meets again with Casey, saying Khomeini has agreed to the proposal. Casey agrees the next day, naming Cyrus Hashimi as middleman to handle the arms transactions. More meetings are set for October. Cyrus Hashimi purchases a Greek ship and commences arms deliveries valued at $150 million from the Israeli port of Eilat to Bandar Abbas. According to CIA sources, Hashimi receives a $7 million commission. Casey is said to use an aide named Tom Carter in the negotiations.
September 22, 1980: Iraq invades Iran.
Late September 1980: An expatriate Iranian arms dealer named Hushang Lavi claims he met with Richard V. Allen, the Reagan campaign’s national security expert, Robert “Bud” McFarlane, and Lawrence Silberman, and discussed the possible exchange of F-4 parts for American hostages, but Lavi says they asserted they “were already in touch with the Iranians themselves”. (Silberman, Allen, and McFarlane deny they met with Lavi, but reporter Robert Parry obtained a copy of Lavi’s 1980 calendar after Lavi’s death, which corroborated the Iranian’s account.)
October 15–20: Meetings are held in Paris between emissaries of the Reagan/Bush campaign, with Mr. William Casey as “key participant”, and “high-level Iranian and Israeli representatives”.
October 21: Iran, for reasons not explained, abruptly shifts its position in secret negotiations with the Carter administration and disclaims “further interest in receiving military equipment”.
October 21–23: Israel secretly ships F-4 fighter-aircraft tires to Iran, in violation of the U.S. arms embargo, and Iran disperses the hostages to different locations.
January 20, 1981: Hostages are formally released into United States custody after spending 444 days in captivity. The release takes place just minutes after Ronald Reagan is sworn in as president.
In such back-channel communications, it would be very difficult to document the contacts, so investigations of Reagan’s involvement could not be proven, one way or the other. However, the charge gained credibility when the Reagan administration was found to have “rewarded” Iran.
The allegations that the Reagan team subverted the U.S. government’s attempt to resolve the hostage crisis were generally regarded as an unsupported conspiracy theory until the Iran-Contra affair was exposed in 1986, which showed that the U.S. government had made a secret deal with the Iranian government in 1985 to covertly supply Iran with arms, with the funds being used to support the Nicaraguan Contras. Investigations of the Iran-Contra affair, in which the Central Intelligence Agency played a central role, made the 1980 October Surprise allegations, in which Iran and the CIA also figured, seem less implausible, leading to more serious investigation of the claims.
The 1980 episode gained traction years later. There were articles in 1991. One noting that Nixon’s aide, William Casey, was also involved in the Iran deal.
One of the accounts is provided by Gary Sick, a Middle East specialist who helped handle the Iranian hostage crisis as a member of the White House staff in the Carter Administration. Mr. Sick, in an article published Monday on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, says he has heard what he considers to be reliable reports that a secret deal involving the hostages was begun during two meetings between William J. Casey and the Iranian cleric in a Madrid hotel in July 1980.
The allegation that there were meetings between Mr. Casey, Mr. Reagan’s campaign chairman, who went on be the Director of Central Intelligence, and Hojatolislam Mehdi Karrubi, a representative of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, has been reported for the first time by Mr. Sick. Research for a Book.
There has been more investigation in recent years. In 2013, there was an article that works to tear down arguments that Reagan didn’t work behind Carter’s back.
Jamshid Hashemi, who had been a mid-level official in Iran’s new revolutionary government, had been recruited by the CIA in early 1980 to assist in resolving the hostage crisis. His younger brother Cyrus was another recruit of the CIA. But Jamshid claimed that the two of them began working behind the scenes to help Republicans make contact with key Iranians to delay the hostage release.
Unbeknownst to the Carter administration, Cyrus Hashemi had ties to William Casey through a longtime Casey associate, John Shaheen. Casey and Shaheen had served together in the World War II’s Office of Strategic Services, and Shaheen and Cyrus Hashemi were collaborating on an oil refinery deal in 1980.
The article shows the arguments of those who tried to debunk the claims against Reagan, as well as those who debunked the debunkers.
Another article, in 2014, went further, with an extensive collection of sources, and adding information later supplied by AP reporter Robert Parry.
However, Parry did not let go of the story. Years after the Congressional investigation ended, the reporter obtained access to the Task Force’s documents and found a letter from Iran’s Bani-Sadr, dated December 17 1992, in which he detailed the contacts between Khomeini’s associates and the Reagan-Bush campaign. According to Parry, “In the Task Force’s final report, issued on Jan. 13, 1993, Barcella’s team simply misrepresented Bani-Sadr’s letter, mentioning it only briefly, claiming that it was hearsay, and then burying its contents in a little-noticed annex to the report along with other incriminating evidence.” (8)
Bani-Sadr’s testimony is supported by Iranian admiral Ahmad Madani, who was minister of defense in 1979 and presidential candidate in the 1980 elections. Madani’s presidential campaign was financed by Carter’s CIA through financier and arms dealer Cyrus Hashemi (9). Nevertheless, Bani-Sadr won with over 75% of the vote. In an interview in the early 1990’s Madani informed Parry that in 1980 Hashemi was double-crossing Carter, negotiating the hostages with the Republicans. According to Madani, Hashemi specifically mentioned to him the name of William Casey.
But the real irony is that Russian records, released after the fall of the USSR, also contributed to the story.
But the most explosive piece of October Surprise evidence is most certainly a Russian intelligence report sent to the Task Force on January 11 1993, just as the investigation was drawing to a close (11). The six-page document stated that Soviet intelligence knew that Bush, Casey and other US Republicans had met secretly in Europe with Iranian officials in 1980.