Like a dud firecracker with a very long fuse, the Senate's public hearings on Billy Carter have fizzled out. Two months ago the flap over Billy Carter's dealings with the radical government of Libya looked like a serious threat to President Carter's re-election. The Senate formed a special investigative subcommittee and talked of calling the President to appear personally to account for the affair. Republicans saw the makings of a Democratic Watergate.
"There was no smoking gun, no bombshell," said Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana , a member of the investigative subcommittee after the hearings. "In hindsight, probably we didn't need to have devoted quite as much time."
Senator Baucus defended the investigation, however, saying that it "performed a public service" since now "Congress and the American people can rest assured that Billy did not have any influence on the State Department, the President, or the White House."
Republican Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. of Connecticut told the Monitor that he was satisfied that no illegalities are involved in the Billy Carter issue. But he charged that White House officials did give favorable treatment to the President's young brother, who had been under investigation for failure to register as an agent for the Libyan government.
"It shows that those powerful in political terms or economic terms have a different standard of treatment," said Senator Weicker.
Although President Carter did not appear before the Senate subcommittee, the White House shipped stacks of documents to Congress and sent the President's lawyer, appointments secretary, and national security adviser to testify.
Senators saw copies of memorandums written by the President, phone call records, and State Department cables.
By the end of the hearings, these facts seemed clear:
* Billy Carter, because he is the brother of the US President, was able to have a relationship with Libyan officials that brought him $220,000. Billy Carter called the money a "loan" although no agreement was signed, no collateral offered.
* If the Libyans thought they could influence American foreign policy through Billy Carter, they were disappointed. Libya has pushed for the US to lift its ban on delivery of eight military transport planes which Libya has already paid for. The US still refuses to hand over the airplanes because the Libyans have supported terrorist groups. Relations between the US and Libya remain cool.
* Zbigniew Brzezinski, the President's national security adviser, used Billy Carter to set up a meeting with Libyans to enlist Libyan help in releasing the American hostages in Iran. Brzezinski conceded that the scheme was a poor one.
* Billy Carter set up a business deal to obtain Libyan oil for a Florida company. No oil was delivered, but Brzezinski got wind of the deal through intelligence sources and urged the President to stop the plan since it might damage US peace efforts in the Middle East.
* Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti talked briefly with President Carter about investigations into whether his brother was breaking the law by failing to register as an agent for a foreign country. Further, Mr. Civiletti found that Billy Carter had received money from the Libyans but failed to pass the information on to his investigators immediately.
Critics say Civiletti held up the investigation to give Billy Carter time to register and to save political embarrassment.