Chiding brother Billy

By publicly rebuking Billy Carter, President Carter clearly hopes to minimize the political embarrasment his brother's bizarre dealings with Libya are causing him. The Republicans, gleeful over this opportunity to prick the President in an election year, already is calling for a congressional investigation. There is little doubt they seek to make political capital of the controversy. Even if Republican motives may not be the purest, however, the Democratic Party itself should favor such an investigation. It can only benefit itself by clearing up as swiftly and thoroughly as possible any questions which arise in the public mind over the Billy Carter connection in the White House. A congressional look at the whole matter would be in keeping with the President's own statement that facts relating to the existence of any relationship between a close relative of the President and a foreign government "should be fully and publicly disclosed."

One question Americans will wonder about is why national security adviser Abigniew Brzezinski last November used Billy Carter as an intermediary to ask for Libyan assistance in freeing the US hostages in Iran. Mr. Brzezinski had known for some time that the Justice Department was investigating billy Carter's dealings with the Libyans. Even for diplomatic reasons, such a gambit in the Iranian crisis seemed implausible. But one should probably not be too hard on Mr. Brzezinski, remembering how anxious the White house was in those early days to explore every possible avenue for securing release of the American captives. The President's adviser apparently was not informed about the animosity which exists between the Ayatollah Khomeini and Libyan leader Qaddafi or, if he was, believed the initiative was nonetheless worth the effort.

It is suspicions about Billy Carter's links with the White House and any advantage he may have derived from them that most need to be dispelled, however. A key question is: Did President Carter and any of his staff know of Billy Carter's financial arrangements with Libya, specifically a $220,000 loan, before Billy Carter registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent on July 14? The Justice Department had learned of the Libyan payments June 2. Within eight days of that discovery, and before he was formally notified, Billy Carter asked a lawyer to call the Justice Department and arrange a meeting to check on the status of the investigation. Had he been warned of the discovery, which then led to his registering as an agent of the Libyan government? Jody Powell says that "to the best extent we have been able to determine" no one at the White house informed him of such. The official White House informed him of such. The official White House statement further asserts that a meeting which Billy Carter held with Mr. brzezinski on june 11 was for the purpose of asking him if he could tell Justice investigators about his role in the hostage crisis and that the Libyan money payments were never mentioned.

Certainly the public should not jump to the conclusion that the White house version of events is dubious. Knowing of the potential political harm which his brother's association with the Libyans could do him, President Carter presumably would have been scrupulously careful not to let the White House interfere in any way with the Justice Department investigation. He has sought to keep a correct distance between himself and his brother. But the intricate chain of events leading to Billy Carter's long-delayed decision to register as a foreign agent does leave some questions which a congressional investigation could quickly resolve. Senator Kennedy, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, properly removed himself from voting on whether to hold such an investigation. It would also be awkward for him to conduct it.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.