FBI can’t find its files on the investigation into Reagan’s “Debategate”

Long before the DNC Hack, a Republican won the election after his campaign benefited from materials stolen from the Democratic campaign

Written by Michael Best
Edited by JPat Brown

During the 1980 Presidential Election, Ronald Reagan was the apparent benefit of two different October Surprises. The more infamous is the alleged hostage deals made by the Reagan Campaign, and some of the Reagan campaign’s meetings on this topic have been verified. Far less known is that the Reagan campaign received a copy of at least one debate briefing book used by the Carter campaign. According to some accounts, these papers gave the Reagan camp “advanced knowledge of virtually every point President Carter made during the debate.”

The scandal received a great deal of media attention and eventually lead to Congressional hearings on the issue. No clear conclusion was ever reached on the matter, with different explanations and interpretations offered at different times. The papers of John Roberts, now the Chief Justice of the United States, revealed that he and his colleagues admitted the affair happened.

The main concern shown in those papers is how much could be proven, where their testimony diverged from the documentation that they had handed over, and whether or not the materials were technically property of the federal government.

A June 27, 1983 memorandum co-authored by now Chief Justice Roberts outlines several alibis that they had established would not work, that the “critical question” and if the materials were government property. He adds that if it were government property, they undoubtedly broke the law - but the Democrats might have also.

The FBI agreed with Roberts, and the issue of whether or not it was government property was the very one they investigated. The FBI document released in junction with this case is a “52” file, which corresponds to “Government Property - Theft, Robbery, Embezzlement, Illegal Possession, Destruction.” Unfortunately, this document is the only one released by the FBI - and it’s the memo ordering the case closed.

The memo makes it clear that the decision to close the investigation was made by the DOJ itself, in the form of a Declaration.

It also dispelled any doubt that this was the full extent of the file. According to the only paragraph on the second page of the document, approximately 775 man hours were spent on the issue.

None of that information was included, however. The FBI claimed to have only found the two pages, and released them with a few redactions. The only additional information offered by the memo is that “prosecution status is uncertain” and that multiple briefing books existed.

An appeal has been submitted for the rest of the of the file. In the meantime, you can read the Congressional Report here or the released document embedded below.


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Image via US News and World Report