With undisguised glee, White House press secretary Jody Powell yesterday made public the State Departments cables dealing with Billy Carter's 1978 visit to Libya and said there is no indication that President Carter gave any of the cables to his brother or saw them himself.
The seven cables between the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli contain routine information on Billy Carter's visit to Libya and praise the president's brother for his demeanor during the visit.
"As far as we can see, there has been no negative fallout from Billy Carter's visit to Tripoli," the embassy reported at the end of the visit in a cable that was classified "confidential."
"In fact, on the local scene we would rate it a very positive event which has opened some doors for this embassy and raised the morale of the American community."
Powell said it was this kind of information describing Billy Carter's behavior during the visit and the embassy's assessment of the trip's impact that the president recalls later discussing with his brother.
On Wednesday, the White House acknowledged that such discussions between the president and his brother had taken place. That came after Rep. Harold S. Sawyer (R-Mich.) disclosed an FBI report that quoted Billy Carter as saying the president furnished him all the State Department cable traffic on Billy's visit.
The cable flap received heavy television and newspaper coverage, adding to the potentially damaging political fallout for Carter from the controversy about his brother's ties to Libya. Thus, White House officials were delighted yesterday to release the text of the cables and the harmless information they contained.
Powell sought to reinforce the innocuous nature of the cables by also announcing that most of that materials has been in the hands of syndicated columnist Jack Anderson for at least 14 months and that nothing had come of the earlier disclosure of the cables to Anderson.
According to Powell, an aide to the columnist obtained copies of the cables in May 1979, through a Freedom of Information Act request. Anderson yesterday said he did not know of such a request, but that he had seen the same cables during an earlier visit to Libya to investigate Billy Carter's dealings.
Anderson said he used some of the cable material in his column but did not find it interesting. "They were dull," he said.
Meanwhile, Billy Carter was heard from again in the case as he denied having lied to a Justice Department official about the payments he received from Libya.
Joel Lisker, head of the department's foreign agents registration unit, said Wednesday that Billy Carter lied to him during an interview last Jan. 16 when he denied receiving any payments from Libya. In fact, Lisker said, records show the Libyans wrote a $20,000 check to Billy Carter on Dec. 27, 1979, three weeks before the interview.
"Lisker is full of shit," the president's brother told the Associated Press yesterday in Americus, Ga. The AP quoted Lisker as replying. "The record speak for itself."
Billy Carter yesterday also denied that he had been shown any of the cables by the president.
"I have State Department copies of nothing," he said. "Jimmy has not shown me anything."
The release of the innocuous State Department cables made yesterday an "up" day for Powell and other White House officials who have been on something of a political roller coaster since the affair began more than three weeks ago. The controversy was touched off when Billy Carter, under pressure from the Justice Department, reluctantly agreed to register as an agent of the Libyan government and acknowledged receiving $220,000 from Libya.
Billy Carter said these payments were a downpayment on a $500,000 loan from Libya, a characterization the Justice Department has not accepted. l
The next major move by the White House in the case is likely to come Monday when, according to Powell, a detailed reply to questions from a Senate subcommittee investigating the case will be submitted to the panel and made public. Powell said the president plans to hold a nationally televised news conference Monday night to answer questions on the report.
Powell said the seven cables released yesterday are believed to encompass all State Department cable traffic on Billy Carter's 1978 visit to Libya. Billy Carter also visited Libya in 1979, but Powell said a search for cables dealing with that trip was not made because there have been no allegations that information on the 1979 trip was provided to the president's brother.
Powell said two of the seven cables were located in the files of Susan Clough, the president's personal assistant and secretary. But he said there is no indication that Carter ever saw any of the cables. The president usually initials documents he has read and none of the cables bears his initials, Powell said.
Powell said the embassy reports of Billy Carter's good behavior in Libya "would be a subject of some relief to the president and others." Asked whether, in telling Billy Carter of the high marks he received from the embassy, the president might have acted to encourage his brother's continued involvement with a foreign government, Powell said, "I think the president's intent was to encourage good behavior."
With the release of the documents, Powell took special delight in replying to Sawyer and others whom he said had used the cable flap to raise questions "about the propriety and legality of the president's conduct of his office."
"If all of this is so important," he continued, "is it not also important for members of Congress to forgo the opportunity for media attention or the opportunity to score partisan points until they know what they are talking about?"