Barr (above) has argued “a president cannot obstruct justice when carrying out his normal constitutional responsibilities, such as hiring and firing officials and directing federal law enforcement operations.” Photo from The New York Times.

You have to hand it to Republicans. They know how to play hardball and show their deftness in navigating that Potomac swamp they’ve not yet bothered to drain.

How appropriate that a former attorney general, the very guy who previously showed his expertise in crafting presidential pardons has, in the heightening Trump-Russia investigation, been chosen to be the next attorney general. What timing. How coincidental.

The nomination of William Barr to be the next attorney general has raised controversy because of his previously expressed strong views about the Mueller investigation. In fact, some have suggested that the 19-page memo Barr wrote and sent to the Justice Department last June in defense of Donald Trump was, in fact, a job application. Therefore, he should be disqualified on the basis of an apparent conflict-of-interest with an ongoing criminal and national security investigation.

Most noteworthy in Barr’s critique, according to one legal critic, is that “a president cannot obstruct justice when carrying out his normal constitutional responsibilities, such as hiring and firing officials and directing federal law enforcement operations.”

Never mind, the Washington Post reported, “that is just what Nixon was doing when he attempted to shut down the FBI investigation of Watergate.” And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that Trump famously said that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

Based on this argument, Barr, who was George H. W. Bush’s attorney general and now the soon-to-be reincarnated attorney general, might argue that in whacking someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and in sight of thousands of harried Manhattan witnesses, Trump did such an act while performing his normal constitutional responsibilities.

Note: some evangelical pastors like Jerry Falwell Jr. might add that he was only doing his job while performing the terrestrial duties God almighty directed him to fulfill.

But to other observers, the mere mention of William Barr’s name has reminded critics of his role in the aftermath of the Reagan administration’s Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s. Bloomberg provided this view on the previous presidential cover-up work involving Barr:

The most significant single act of Barr’s career in the Department of Justice was to advise President George H.W. Bush to pardon six officials from Ronald Reagan’s administration, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, for crimes associated with the Iran-Contra affair. At the time, Barr was — you guessed it — attorney general. His recommendation gave Bush the cover he needed to issue the pardons.

And Bush needed the cover. The investigation led by independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was closing in on the president himself. Walsh had demanded that Bush turn over a campaign diary that he kept in 1986. Bush failed to do so, presumably because the diary showed he knew more about Iran-Contra than he had let on. Walsh publicly condemned Bush’s failure to produce the diary as “misconduct” by the sitting president.

Issuing the pardons killed Walsh’s investigation — and saved Bush. When the targets of the investigation were off the hook, Walsh had no leverage to continue.

Don’t take my word for it. When the pardons came, Walsh went on ABC’s “Nightline” and said that Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.” The comparison was intended. Walsh was saying that Bush had saved himself by effectively ending an investigation that was leading to the Oval Office — the aim that Nixon failed to accomplish when he fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

For those too young to remember, the pardons crafted by Barr and executed by President George H. W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992 involved the actions of Casper Weinberger, secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, and other administration officials. If the special counsel’s investigation had gone longer, some believe, it might have uncovered the role Bush is thought to have played in Iran-Contra, and also in the so-called October Surprise of 1980, which some researchers believe was the precursor for the Iran-Contra Affair itself.

We can only hope that at least one senator might have the temerity to ask William Barr, the presumptive as well as past attorney general, what he knows about the lingering allegations that in October 1980, Bush, a former CIA Director and Ronald Reagan’s vice presidential running mate, supposedly made a secret late night flight to Paris to meet with Iranian representatives about the American embassy hostages that were being held captive. Those allegations and other reporting formed the basis for a public television documentary, books, articles, along with a congressional investigation about some evidence that pointed to collusion by the Reagan campaign to delay the release of the hostages in return for American arms.

To some, this might have been a replay of the first October Surprise in 1968, when Nixon, through intermediaries, asked the South Vietnamese government to delay participation in the Paris Peace Talks because they would get a better deal from the U.S. in a Nixon administration. (Plunderbund reported this story previously in three articles, the first in March 2017, followed by another report in April 2018 and, most recently, in November.)

These allegations were driven in part by the actions of the Iranians, who started to release the hostages at the time Reagan was sworn in on January 20, 1981. Israeli arms shipments to Iran started soon after and became visible years later, with the Iran-Contra imbroglio.

Robert Parry has produced dozens of articles which in part formed the basis for a body of work that still stands as the definitive study of suspicions regarding Republican collusion with Iran during the 1980 campaign. Photo from  Diane Duston, via Associated Press


One journalist, in particular, spent nearly thirty years in investigating the October Surprise. Robert Parry, a former Newsweek, and Associated Press investigative reporter produced dozens of articles which in part formed the basis for a body of work that still stands as the definitive study of suspicions regarding Republican collusion with Iran during the 1980 campaign. (This sounds a bit familiar. Change the date and the country and you have the undercurrent of what is happening today in a current investigation about Republican collusion with a hostile foreign power during an election campaign.)

Here is one excerpt from a 2011 Parry article that might be an invitation for senators as well as the general public to reopen a congressional investigation dealing with the 1980 campaign, perhaps similar to what we might learn soon about the 2016 Trump campaign:

The allegations of a Paris meeting also received support from several other sources, including pilot Heinrich Rupp, who said he flew Casey (then Ronald Reagan’s campaign chief and later CIA director) from Washington’s National Airport to Paris on a flight that left very late on a rainy night in mid-October 1980.

Rupp said that after arriving at LeBourget airport outside Paris, he saw a man resembling Bush on the tarmac.
The night of Oct. 18 indeed was rainy in the Washington area. And, sign-in sheets at the Reagan-Bush headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, placed Casey within a five-minute drive of National Airport late that evening.
There were other bits and pieces of corroboration about the Paris meetings.

A French arms dealer, Nicholas Ignatiew, told me in 1990 that he had checked with his government contacts and was told that Republicans did meet with Iranians in Paris in mid-October 1980.

A well-connected French investigative reporter Claude Angeli said his sources inside the French secret service confirmed that the service provided “cover” for a meeting between Republicans and Iranians in France on the weekend of Oct. 18-19. German journalist Martin Kilian had received a similar account from a top aide to intelligence chief deMarenches.

As early as 1987, Iran’s ex-President Bani-Sadr had made similar claims about a Paris meeting, and Israeli intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe claimed to have been present outside the meeting and saw Bush, Casey and other Americans in attendance.

Unfortunately, Robert Parry died in 2018 at the age of 68. However the body of his work on the mysterious 1980 October Surprise can be found on Consortium News, the website he founded after his departure from Newsweek and the AP.

We can only hope that at some point in the presumed tenure of William Barr, some fearless member of Congress will, at long last, grill him in an attempt to get at the truth behind his zeal in crafting pardons for some of the players in the Iran-Contra Affair, including his then-boss, George Herbert Walker Bush, who most recently was the subject of glowing accolades at the time of his passing.

Since we have only found out in the last few years about the extent of Richard Nixon’s treason in the 1968 October Surprise, all of those who might have been involved in a possible cover-up and collusion with a foreign government need to be identified, including the late President Bush.

The American people need to know what happened in 1980, just like they need aboutnow what happened in 2016. Lawrence Walsh may have been right in suspecting that the pardons crafted by then-Attorney General William Barr thwarted an investigation that could have revealed much more abut the October Surprise and Iran-Contra.

William Barr, the presumptive attorney general, needs to tell us about his role in pardoning those responsible for Iran-Contra. Along the way, we need to find out, through our congressional representatives, whether special prosecutor Walsh was correct in suspecting other higher-ups, including those who later served as Director of the CIA  and President of the United States, in possibly rigging another election, this one in 1980.

The truth is often inconvenient. We have no choice but to know the facts and the truth, wherever both may lead us. William Barr should expect no less in the questions that need to be asked of him in Congress. The tenacious investigative reporter Robert Parry, if he were still alive, would expect no less.


NOTES: Here is one article from the work of Robert Parry that might be of further interest on the 1980 October Surprise and the possible involvement of George H. W. Bush.

Reagan-Bush Ties to Iran-Hostage Crisis