Jury Foreman Says He Never Doubted Brenneke’s Innocence
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ Jurors never doubted Richard J. Brenneke’s claim of CIA connections or his story about Reagan-Bush campaign officials trying to get Iran to delay the release of U.S. hostages until after the 1980 election, the jury foreman says.
″We all came away extremely comfortable with the verdict and extremely convinced that Mr. Brenneke was not guilty of any of the charges,″ said foreman Mark Kristoff of Beaverton.
Brenneke, a shadowy figure who has claimed involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, was indicted on five counts of lying to a federal judge in Denver in 1988. At the time, he was appearing as a character witness for Heinrich Rupp, a Denver gold dealer convicted of bank fraud.
Brenneke was charged with making false declarations, a charge slightly stronger than perjury, about his and Rupp’s alleged CIA connections, and about the alleged hostage delay and the key officials involved.
The jury returned its verdict clearing Brenneke after five hours of deliberation Friday. The votes were unanimous in each of the five rounds of secret balloting, said Kristoff.
″There never was a guilty vote,″ Kristoff said Saturday.
In numerous media interviews, Brenneke has said he had first-hand knowledge about the Iran-Contra arms deals. Called before a Senate subcommittee on narcotics and international relations in 1988, Brenneke claimed to have run drugs from Colombia to the U.S. as part of a Contra supply operation. He also testified to having purchased arms in Czechoslovakia for the Nicaraguan rebels. That testimony was called ″slanderous″ by then-Vice President Bush, and a 1989 Senate committee report concluded that Brenneke never had the Central Intelligence Agency connections he claimed.
In the testimony in Denver that led to his trial, Brenneke said he had met Rupp in 1957 when they worked together for Air America, the CIA proprietary airline. In October 1980, Brenneke told the judge, he and Rupp helped to arrange a series of meetings in Paris concerning the 52 Americans taken hostage by Iranian militants in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Brenneke told the judge that Rupp had flown George Bush, then the Republican vice presidential candidate, to the secret meetings. At his trial last week, however, Brenneke testified he did not actually see Bush in Paris.
He claimed that the negotiations were attended by the late CIA director William Casey, then head of Ronald Reagan’s campaign, and Donald P. Gregg, who at the time was a CIA agent and is now U.S. ambassador to South Korea.
During Brenneke’s trial, Gregg testified he was at the Delaware seashore the weekend Brenneke said the meetings took place and produced snapshots to prove it. A retired meteorologist popped up among the defense witnesses, saying he had consulted 1980 weather maps and found Gregg’s photographs could not have been taken on the weekend in question.
Another defense witness, former National Security Adviser Richard V. Allen, acknowledged there was concern among the Reagan camp about the possibility that a hostage release just before the election could mean a win for Carter. But Allen also said he did not attend any meeting in Paris.
In the end, the 52 hostages, seized Nov. 4, 1979, were not released until Jan. 20, 1981, the day Reagan was sworn into office.
During deliberations, Kristoff said, the jury did not consider whether delaying the hostage release might have sabotaged President Carter’s re- election effort.
″We kept it simple,″ said Kristoff, an inventory control auditor for a sportswear manufacturer. ″We didn’t want to get involved in the presidential election. ... That wasn’t what we were trying.″
Although the jury did not discuss whether the Paris meetings actually took place, Kristoff said, ″My feeling is that there was a meeting. Whether those particular people were involved, is something I can’t say.″
In his closing arguments Friday, assistant U.S. attorney Thomas M. O’Rourke portrayed Brenneke as a rejected CIA job applicant who operated on ″the fringes,″ trying to make arms deals, trying to get into intelligence gathering, but never getting involved in the real thing.
Defense lawyers tried to show the government had buried evidence of Brenneke’s work for the CIA.
After the verdict, defense lawyer Michael Scott said the jury’s finding does not mean that Bush was actually in Paris meeting with Iranians before the election. The verdict, Scott said, ″means the jury did not find my client guilty.″
Former CIA agent Frank Snepp, who in 1977 tried to publish a book criticizing intelligence operations in Vietnam but was blocked by the courts, testified that the the agency used front organizations to conceal government involvement in certain operations.
Kristoff said such testimony was key in the jury deliberations.
″The main thing we kept coming back to was the term ’deniability,‴ said Kristoff.