The President, by his detailed defense on television, appears to have put the Billy Carter affair at least somewhat behind him. Strong evidence of this is Republican Sen. Robert Dole's praise for the President after the TV session and conjecture that the Senate subcommittee investigating the Billy Carter-Libyan connection now may not need the President's testimony. Senator Dole serves on that panel.
The morning before Mr. Carter's TV appearance, White House press secretary Jody Powell told the Monitor the President was confident that he had effectively closed the case.
"The President has dealt directly with even the smallest question," Mr. Powell said. "It's all there in the report [a 13,000-word document prepared for the Senate panel] -- and in the press conference. And the President says that if there are any further questions that should come up, he'll deal with them."
Conversations with Democratic leaders in Washington and elsewhere around the United States indicate new support for the President is emerging -- which could be of immense help to him in holding the line at the Democratic National Convention against any threat to take away the nomination.
In essence, top Democrats are beginning to pass the word to convention delegates and to other party leaders that they should consider what the impact would be if Carter were to be thrust aside and the nomination be given to another.
Says one party leader: "What these Democrats are beginning to see is that if Carter loses out at the convention, the result, in effect, will be that the country will have a discredited President and one which the Democrats -- not the Republicans -- have discredited."
Moreover, Democratic leaders are contending that should Carter be discredited in this manner it would so weaken him that he would have great difficulty in dealing with any global crisis that might occur.
"As the delegates come to see this danger -- and we are making a point to point it out to them," one administration official says, "it will tend to curb any inclination they may have to bolt."
As one veteran presidential watcher put it, the President was -- for the most part -- "formidable" in his televised news conference. He denied committing any illegality or impropriety and indicated only that he may have been guilty of some "bad judgment" in choosing his brother as an intermediary in dealing with the Libyan government as part of an overall effort to free the American hostages in Iran.
But he said the fate of the hostages had become "an absolute, total obsession of mine" and that he was thus willing to resort to the unusual method of relying on his brother simply because this device did appear to offer some hope.
To prevent any future problem of this nature from coming up, Carter said, "I have asked my counsel to draft a rule that will bar any employee of the executive branch from dealing with any member of the President's family under circumstances that create either the reality or the appearance of improper favor or influence."
The President did say, in reply to a question, it had occurred to him that his brother might try to use his ties to Libya for financial gain.
"But," he added, "I don't have authority to order Billy to do something."
Mr. Carter also detailed in his report -- and to the press conference -- some persistent efforts he made to persuade Billy Carter from continuing his dealings with the Libyans.