New Witness Reveals GOP Scheme To Sabotage 1980 Iran Hostage Release
Ben Barnes is 84, but in 1980 he was the youngest speaker of the Texas youngest speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and on his way to becoming lieutenant governor. He was also a close ally of former Texas Gov. John Connally. At Connolly’s request, Barnes took on a very special role in 1980—travel the Middle East and convince Iran to not release U.S. hostages, so that Ronald Reagan could beat Jimmy Carter.
As The New York Times reports, Barnes has sat on this story for the last 43 years. However, with President Carter currently in hospice care, Barnes has decided to reveal the plot, and the role he played in sabotaging Carter’s campaign.
“History needs to know that this happened,” said Mr. Barnes. “I think it’s so significant and I guess knowing that the end is near for President Carter put it on my mind more and more and more. I just feel like we’ve got to get it down some way.”
The plot was simple enough. Connally and Barnes traveled “to one Middle Eastern capital after another” over the summer of 1980, as U.S. hostages were being held in Tehran. On every one of those stops, they passed along the same message for the new leadership in Iran: Don’t make a deal with Carter. Wait for Reagan. He’ll give you a much better deal.
When they arrived back in the United States, Connolly checked in with Reagan’s campaign chair, and future Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Casey. For his role in “torpedoing” Carter’s chance at reelection, Connolly hoped to be rewarded with the job of Secretary of State. He was not.
Completely ignored in this strategy was that every day of captivity put the lives and health of the hostages in Iran at risk. In addition, the military planned and attempted to execute a rescue operation in which eight U.S. service members died and another four were injured. Prolonging the crisis created a risk every day to the lives of those in Iran, and to members of the U.S. military. It also created ongoing harm to U.S. standing abroad and to national security in general.
Previous investigations into suspicions that Iran has been pressured to wait until after the election to make a deal had focused on the idea that Casey met directly with representatives from Iran. They had not focused on Connally or how messages might have been passed along through other officials in the Middle East. Multiple people confirmed that Barnes had told them all or part of the story at the time, and a check of flight records shows that Connally traveled to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel in July of 1980 on what he called “private business.”
A note found in Connally’s records, taken in the middle of that trip, shows how closely he was coordinating with the Reagan campaign:
“Nancy Reagan called—they are at Ranch he wants to talk to you about being in on strategy meetings.”
The Iranian government announced the release of the hostages after the election. Jimmy Carter was there to welcome them home on what should have been the first day of his second term, but was instead his last day in office.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos