From NBC's Chuck Todd and Ali Weinberg
A scandal that once looked like it could take down a president, but soon fizzled for lack of hard evidence, gets a closer look in a new book, "Rendezvous With Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America," by Craig Shirley. While the mystery of 1983's "debategate" remains unsolved, Shirley's new book sheds new light on the scandal, in which Ronald Reagan staffers stole the briefing books President Carter was using to prepare for a 1980 debate with candidate Reagan.
The web of evidence Shirley weaves--which Politico excerpts today--all leads to one man: the late Paul Corbin, whom Shirley describes as "a political troublemaker par excellence."
Corbin was a Kennedy loyalist who defected to the Reagan campaign after developing a hatred for the 1980 Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter. Corbin met several times with campaign manager Bill Casey at the Reagan-Bush headquarters in Arlington, VA. Shirley writes of the chain of events surrounding the heist: "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 briefing books had been assembled and copied in the White House between the night of Oct. 23 and morning of the 24th. "Copies of the briefing books arrived at the Reagan campaign's headquarters not long thereafter," Shirley writes.
Corbin never admitted his masterminding the plan under oath, but sources later came forward and independently labeled him the culprit.
Shirley concludes his piece: "Although the FBI found both Jim Baker's and David Gergen's fingerprints on the briefing books, they found none of Corbin's.
Corbin was too smart to make that dumb mistake. After all, how many Washington political operators had a downtown office with an unlisted phone number?"