White House Stymied in attempt to handle 'Billy' affair quickly
Washington — A harassed President Carter, attempting to get "Billygate" behind him, is facing obstacles as he tries to regain his campaign initiative: * Even while moving decisively to go public on what he and those around him know about the billy Carter affair, the President found that the special Senate committee headed by Birch Bayh (D) of Indiana isn't ready to hear him.
A top Carter aide said Wednesday morning: "The President wants to go over there and testify next week -- to get this all out in the open. But we are already hearing that the Senate committee doesn't want him, that it isn't ready, that if he does come now he might have to come back again after the [Democratic national] convention."
He continued: "We get all these people making these sanctimonious comments about wanting the President to come out with the truth and as soon possible -- but then when we do, there is this dragging of the feet that we have to deal with. There are people on that Senate committee -- certainly the Republicans -- who would like to keep this hearing going all during the campaign."
Senator Bayh said at a breakfast meeting with reporters on Tuesday that he would "welcome" the President coming in to testify this week or next. On the other hand, he added that, though the committee was not yet prepared for him, "we couldn't keep the President from coming over if he wanted to."
Since then, the President has learned that he is not welcome -- not yet, not before the convention.
"What that committee wants to do," the White house source says, "is to have a big buildup before bringing the President in -- to turn into a big TV production.
"So they want first to bring in others to testify -- like [Zbigniew] Brzezinski, [Phillip] Wise, [Susan] Clough, [Tom] Beard, and [William] Quandt [ all administration people whose names have been connected to the Billy Carter matter]. They talk about wanting the President, but they want to program him in to fit with their own schedule."
* Even while Mr. Carter attempts to stick his finger in the dike, new leaks are developing:
A new charge has surfaced to the effect that Billy Carter called the White House last year to uniquire about the sale of C-130 military air transports wanted by the Libyan government. The alleged White House contact, according to the Washington Post, was the President's appointments secretary, Phillip J. Wise Jr.
Of this, White House deputy press secretary Ray Jenkins told the Monitor: "Wise has no memory of this conversation with Billy. I've talked to Wise this morning. And that's what he has told me."
What concerns the White House now is that there will be a series of new charges surfacing, perhaps for days and weeks to come, making it almost impossible for the President fully to lay to rest the rumors and charges with an early appearance before Congress.
"How can we regain the initiative when these things keep dribbling out?" one administration source asks.
* The White House is further upset by the reaction -- in the press, in Congress, and elsewhere -- to the President's announced intention to produce a report with answers to questions from the Senate about the Billy Carter affair by next week, and to follow that qucikly with a press conference and, as soon as possible, with testimony before the Bayh committee.
"For some of our critics," a White House source said, "it will never be enough. Now the very ones who have been pushing for us to come out and tell all are saying that there must be special counsel to look into this.
"It's as though there are those who would want to turn this into a Watergate affair.
"I don't think that anything we do to try to clear this up is going to be enough for some of our critics."