November 6, 1998

The Real Henry Hyde?

By Robert Parry

Ever since the impeachment clouds started building, the Washington pundits have spotted one silver lining. They have voiced near-unanimous relief that House Speaker Newt Gingrich's point man will be Rep. Henry Hyde, a man of supposed wisdom and stature.

In a typically flattering piece, The Washington Post declared Hyde to be "the House's unimpeachable character," a 74-year-old Republican with a "reputation for evenhandedness, patience and restraint." [WP, May 12, 1998] Columnist Robert Novak simply called Hyde "one of the most widely admired members of Congress." [WP, March 5, 1998]

But does Hyde's real record support this conventional wisdom? Is he capable of a non-partisan approach to President Clinton's impeachment hearings? Or is he a partisan who may seem courtly in style but is predictably rigid in substance?

In the past, when confronted with hard investigative issues -- from Iran-contra to October Surprise -- Hyde has performed more as a partisan water-carrier than a non-partisan truth-seeker.

Hyde also has behaved questionably -- including making misleading statements -- when he came under the kind of scrutiny he is giving President Clinton.

Two years ago, a private investigator named Ernie Rizzo ran a dirty trick against bank consultant Tim Anderson, who had argued that Hyde deserved some blame for the 1990 collapse of the Clyde Federal Savings & Loan, where Hyde had been a director.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Rizzo posed as an independent TV producer to gain Anderson’s trust. Rizzo convinced Anderson to turn over 388 pages of evidence that he had collected.

Rizzo then briefed Hyde about the documents. When questioned by the Tribune, Rizzo said he had been hired by Hyde, but declined further comment.

The House Judiciary chairman, however, said Rizzo had been hired by “a mutual friend.” Hyde then insisted that he had forgotten the friend’s name.

“I know he [Rizzo] interviewed Anderson,” Hyde said. “I was apprised of the results of that interview. ... I didn’t hire him. I didn’t pay him. I didn’t direct him.” [CT, Oct. 18, 1998]

By late October, however, Hyde’s spokesman Sam Stratman admitted that Hyde’s lawyer, James Schirott, had hired Rizzo. Stratman acknowledged, too, that -- instead of a friend paying for the snooping -- it was Hyde who reimbursed the lawyer for Rizzo’s work.

Two years ago, Hyde’s allies considered Anderson a pest for keeping alive the controversy over Clyde Federal, which cost the taxpayers $67 million when it folded.

The government sued Hyde and other directors in 1993, charging negligence. The other directors settled the case last year for $850,000, but Hyde refused to contribute and denied any responsibility.

Hyde also bristled when the online magazine Salon disclosed on Sept. 17 that Hyde had engaged in a five-year affair with a married mother of three in the 1960s. The affair ended the woman’s marriage.

At the time, Hyde was a member of the Illinois legislature and himself a married father of four. Yet, Hyde set the woman up in an apartment and reportedly showered her with expensive gifts.

Though he was 41-years-old, Hyde chalked up his behavior to "youthful indiscretion" and declared that the "statute of limitations" had run. He did not explain how he could support his family and a mistress on his government salary.

The woman, the former Cherie Snodgrass told her local paper, the San Antonio Express-News, that Hyde had lied at the start of the affair, claiming he was single. When Hyde’s wife learned of the affair, Hyde dumped the woman.

Angry about the disclosure, Hyde announced that the Salon story, though true, might be judged a crime. "Efforts to intimidate members of Congress or interfere with the discharge of their duties in relation to the impeachment matter could constitute violation of federal criminal law," Hyde declared.

Salon sourced its story to the woman's ex-husband and a retired friend in Florida who was upset with Hyde's hypocrisy. But Republicans implied, without evidence, that the disclosure came from the White House. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay referred the matter to the FBI, which agreed to investigate.

[For details on the Snodgrass story, see Salon at]

On three more significant issues during the Reagan-Bush years, Hyde faced the choice of exposing unpleasant facts about the Republicans or protecting the GOP political flanks. Each time, he opted for defending his GOP allies.

In summer 1986, Hyde served on the House Intelligence Committee when news articles alleged that Oliver North and other staffers on the National Security Council were overseeing a secret operation to supply Nicaraguan contras.

Despite solid evidence supporting the charges, the committee limited its "investigation" to asking North and other NSC officials if the allegations were true. When the NSC officials gave denials, the committee judged the charges to be false.

That initial cover-up might have worked, except one of North's supply planes was shot down over Nicaragua on Oct. 5, 1986. That event was followed by more disclosures about arms sales to Iran. The Iran-contra scandal was born.

At the Iran-contra hearings, Hyde continued his role as a Reagan defender. Then, the congressman expressed deep concern about destructive politics.

"If this becomes the occasion to conduct civil war by other means, we will have a weakened Presidency and do no credit to ourselves," he said. "We will also weaken the confidence of other people and other nations that our democracy can really work.

"Our Founding Fathers fashioned this country so that there would be tensions between the executive and legislative branches. But there are creative tensions and there are destructive tensions."

But Hyde was not so gentle when he called congressional policies on Nicaragua "limp-wristed." He also used his time for asking questions to tout some of the most extreme -- and fanciful -- rationales for U.S. intervention in Nicaragua.

"I am told [Nicaragua] will have a 10,000-foot runway capable of accommodating any Soviet aircraft in their inventory," Hyde said. "The Corinto port facility in Nicaragua ... is being made into a deep-water port, and I presume the dredging that is going on down there is for submarines. ...

"I'm told half our imports, half of our exports, three quarters of our petroleum imports pass through the maritime lanes of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. ... So if you flank that important waterway with Cuba on one side and a Soviet base in Nicaragua on the other side, you have a pretty tough situation for the import and export in this country of material, troops, everything."

None of Hyde's alarms came to pass, of course. No advanced Soviet aircraft appeared in Nicaragua. No submarines were based at Corinto. No U.S. vessel was ever threatened by the handful of patrol boats in the Nicaraguan navy.

In his Iran-contra orations, Hyde also poked fun at Democrats for their opposition to white-ruled South Africa. "We have people who advocate violence to defeat apartheid, and they are looked upon really as nobility," Hyde observed.

He joked, "if your ship is sinking, you swim toward land, even if it is South Africa."

In 1992, Hyde again was playing aggressive Reagan-Bush defense. He was the top Republican on a task force investigating whether Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign met with Iranian radicals to undercut President Carter’s negotiations to free 52 American hostages then held in Iran.

The evidence implicated Reagan's campaign chief William Casey and other Republicans. But the House task force reached the opposite conclusion, after creating bogus alibis for Casey's whereabouts on key days and hiding evidence that supported the suspicions.

Hyde took to the House floor on Feb. 3, 1993, to denounce the October Surprise story as a "myth" or worse. Hyde based his debunking speech on two arguments.

First, Hyde said, "We were able to locate [Casey's] whereabouts with virtual certainty" on dates when he was allegedly meeting with Iranians.

The second debunking cornerstone, according to Hyde, was the absence of any incriminating evidence on secret FBI wiretaps of Iranian Cyrus Hashemi, an alleged middleman in the GOP-Iranian contacts.

"There is not a single indication that William Casey had contact with Cyrus" Hashemi, Hyde insisted.

But any serious examination of the evidence would reveal that neither of Hyde's assurances was true.

The alibi for Casey on the last weekend of July 1980 was that he attended the Bohemian Grove retreat in California before flying to London -- and thus could not have met with Iranians in Madrid.

The trouble with the alibi was that the Bohemian Grove records put Casey at the retreat the first weekend of August, not the last weekend of July. There was no alibi for Casey's whereabouts at the time of the alleged Madrid meeting.

Hyde also was wrong about FBI wiretaps of Cyrus Hashemi. Though they were still secret in 1993, FBI summaries surfaced in 1994 and contained several references to Casey's contacts with Hashemi.

The wiretaps showed that during 1980, Hashemi was enmeshed in business deals with Casey's close friend, John Shaheen. One tape revealed Hashemi boasting that he had been Casey "close friend" for years.

That claim was backed by a CIA memo which said Casey recruited Hashemi into a business deal in 1979. A task force investigator, Ted Planzos, also learned from classified FBI material that Sheehan had referred Hashemi to Casey in 1980 and suggested "possibly using him [Hashemi] as conduit with the Iranian government regarding the hostage issue."

But this contrary evidence was concealed by the task force, allowing Hyde to take to the House floor and misrepresent the facts. [For more details, see Robert Parry's October Surprise X-Files.]

Hyde's actions, defending Republicans and protecting himself, suggest that the courtly congressman is not the non-partisan statesman the pundits say he is.

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