Days before the 1980 presidential election, someone stole the debate briefing papers belonging to President Jimmy Carter and handed them to his rival, Ronald Reagan.
At that point, the race was considered tight, and many think Reagan’s performance in the subsequent and final debate made all the difference.
The culprit has been one of Washington’s great mysteries. And as with all Washington mysteries, someone eventually talked.
In a new book, “Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America,” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley identifies the mole as the late political operative and onetime Kennedy family confidant Paul Corbin.
Politico has posted an excerpt from the book, which includes this:
Corbin first visited the Reagan-Bush headquarters in Arlington, Va., on Sept. 29, meeting with senior campaign adviser Jim Baker and then with [campaign manager Bill] Casey. He would make at least three more visits, signing in on Oct. 11, Oct. 25, and Nov. 3.
On Oct. 25, Corbin signed in at 9:35 a.m., gave his destination as “Casey” and picked up a check for $1,500. It was just three days before the big debate between Reagan and Carter.
On Nov. 3, the day before the election, Corbin picked up a second and final check from the Reagan campaign, this time in the amount of $1,360. He also spent nearly two hours meeting with Casey.
Carter’s debate briefing books had been assembled and copied in the White House starting the night of Oct. 23 and finishing around 11 o’clock the next morning. Copies of the briefing books arrived at the Reagan campaign’s headquarters not long thereafter. Reagan adviser David Gergen later recalled a package arriving at the Reagan-Bush campaign on a rainy Saturday, “probably Oct. 25” — the same day that Corbin met with Casey.
And you wondered why Carter was so cool after Ted Kennedy’s death this summer.
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