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Congress to Probe Whether Bush-Reagan Campaign Delayed Hostage Release

August 6, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ More than a decade after the alleged deal, Congress is going to use its subpoena power to investigate whether the Reagan-Bush campaign schemed with Iran to delay release of American hostages.

The House and Senate’s Democratic leaders announced Monday they would assign their foreign affairs committees to look into ″persistent and disturbing″ allegations that the 1980 Republican campaign arranged for the 52 captives in Tehran to be held until after the election.

House GOP leader Robert Michel, R-Ill., immediately labeled the probe a politically motivated waste of money.

Besides, he said, ″there’s nothing there and people back home don’t give two hoots about it.″

But House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said they had concluded, ″along with former Presidents Carter and Reagan and President Bush, that these allegations should be laid to rest once and for all.″

Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., who in 1987 chaired the House investigation into the Iran-Contra arms and money scandal, was designated to lead the House probe. Sen. Terry Sanford, D-N.C., will head the effort in the Senate.

″We have no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, but the seriousness of the allegations, and the weight of circumstantial information, compel an effort to establish the facts,″ Foley and Mitchell said.

Both said they accept Bush’s assertions that he knows nothing about any hostage deal.

In identical letters to the investigating panels, Foley and Mitchell said the probe should include ″testimony, under oath, of individuals involved and the subpoena of all necessary documents and records.″ Whether to hold public hearings will be left up to the investigators, they said.

Rep. Butler Derrick, D-S.C., who has been among those pushing for an investigation, said a coordinated House-Senate probe ″can quickly get to the bottom of these rumors.″

″There may be people out there with information that has not come to light thus far,″ Derrick said. ″A congressional investigation may prompt them to step forward, and I hope they will.″

″If there is legitimate evidence and a real reason for an investigation, then they ought to get to the bottom of it,″ said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. ″But if it’s just a political witch hunt of some kind, then it’s foolish.″

Michel said he was ″convinced that the speaker has committed the House to an investigation that will spend thousands of dollars in taxpayer money chasing down 10-year-old rumors.″

He said he believed the probe was politically motivated, and he vowed to scrutinize it ″to insure that the investigation is conducted in a bipartisan fashion with no majority staff shenanigans.″

Hamilton’s bipartisan House task force will not be named until Congress returns from its summer recess in September.

Sanford’s group will be the Near East and South Asia subcommittee, whose members are Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y.; Charles Robb, D-Va.; Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.; Harris Wofford, D-Pa.; Jim Jeffords, R-Vt.; Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Larry Pressler, R-S.D.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was crippled by the hostage crisis, in which personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran were held for 444 days and released minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as Carter’s successor in January 1981.

Michel told Foley in a letter last week that he remained opposed to an investigation.

″Frankly, Tom, I need to be convinced that there is hard evidence on which to base an investigation, otherwise the reputation and integrity of the House will greatly suffer with the American people,″ Michel wrote the speaker.

The story of a secret deal with the Reagan campaign, mostly based on suspicions about the sequence of events, has lasted more than a decade.

It was revived April 15, when Gary Sick, a former official on Carter’s National Security Council staff and now a Middle East scholar, wrote an article about the allegations in The New York Times.

Most of those pushing for an investigation acknowledge that the evidence is circumstantial and that much of it comes from witnesses whose credibility is questionable.

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