15. CARTER'S COVER-UPS

Richard Nixon was driven from the White House in disgrace because of his cover-up of Watergate. Thus, it was not surprising that, during his campaign for the presidency, Jimmy Carter promised to run "an open government to let our people know what our government leaders are doing, including the president." Indeed, he was the first president in American history to insist publicly that he will never tell a lie or make a misleading statement.

Yet, it was only 19 months after the inauguration when the "open" government started to close down, according to a report by investigative columnist Jack Anderson.

In a series of columns, Anderson noted how Carter's promise of an "open" government had deeper roots in rhetoric than in reality.

By July 2, 1979, Anderson wrote that "Carter's concern about leaks of the 'secrets' at times has approached the paranoia of the Nixon years." The "secrets" were minutes from Cabinet meetings secured by Anderson.

Then, on September 10, 1979, Anderson asked "Has there been another cover-up to protect White House aides so soon after Watergate?".

The cover-up accusation was made by a grand jury foreman, Ralph E. Ulmer, who for 10 months had investigated charges that fugitive financier Robert Vesco tried to pull strings inside the White House to fix his legal problems. The cover-up centers around Charles Kirbo, Carter's personal attorney, who was said to have attempted to advise a key witness about her testimony. Kirbo is heard on a secretly recorded tape to warn the witness that "I think it's a mistake to be too open with the FBI."

Anderson said that Ulmer tried to resign, charging the administration with "duplicity" and "manipulation." Ulmer wrote that the "cover-up activities are being orchestrated within the Department of Justice under the concept that the administration must be protected at all costs."

While the truth about the Vesco scandal and any White House involvement has yet to come out, Anderson subsequently revealed an even more serious charge of a Carter cover-up.

In early 1980, Anderson disclosed a stinging secret report to the House Intelligence Committee that raises serious questions about Carter's role in the Iranian hostage situation.

Among the most serious charges in the secret report were:

-- President Carter himself provoked the seizure of our embassy in Tehran by letting the exiled Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlavi into the United States, despite clear and repeated warnings that such action could lead to the taking of American hostages.

-- The banking community, particularly David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan, played a key role in getting the Shah admitted. The report suggests that Chase Manhattan deliberately set up the confrontation so that it could keep the Iranian government from withdrawing billions in oil revenue from its account at the bank.

-- The hostages could have been released on at least four separate occasions "with no compromise of the U.S. position."

Despite the seriousness of these charges and the credence which Anderson gives them, they might be dismissed as speculation if it were not for another incident which occurred in early March, 1980.

On Sunday, March 2, CBS aired an extraordinary segment on "60 Minutes" which was produced by Don Hewitt and narrated by Mike Wallace. It dealt with questionable U.S. relations with the ousted Shah.

The segment revealed that the Carter administration was fully aware of the possible consequences to the American embassy if the Shah were permitted to enter the United States. Other damaging material included excerpts from Wallace's 1976 interview with the Shah in which they discussed torture allegedly administered by the Iranian secret police, the SAVAK.

On March 6th, CBS News president William Leonard disclosed that the White House and the State Department had attempted several times during a two-week period to pressure "60 Minutes" into canceling the segment.

Leonard said he had been contacted by administration representatives he declined to name. However, The Washington Post reported that President Carter's news secretary, Jody Powell, and Henry Precht, who works on the State Department's Iran desk, were among those who tried to pressure CBS into dropping the segment.

The failure of the mass media to directly and forcefully challenge a president who has attempted to deceive the American people with such cover-ups qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best censored" stories of 1979.

SOURCES:

Jack Anderson columns, July 2, 1979; Sept. 10, 1979; and March 24, 1980; AP, San Francisco Chronicle, March 7, 1980, "CBS Says U.S. Prodded It To Drop a Report on Iran."