Jimmy Carter photo

The President's News Conference

August 04, 1980

THE PRESIDENT, This evening we will extend the press conference time to a full hour to give me an adequate opportunity to present a statement and then to answer more questions than would ordinarily be the case.


In 1976, as a candidate, I made a commitment that explains why now as a President I want to make this statement to the American people this evening. Four years ago our country was deeply shaken by an administration that had betrayed its high trust and had tried to hide the truth from public judgment. I was asked then how Americans' lives would be changed if I was elected President. I answered that I would work to restore the confidence of the American people in the integrity of their Government. Integrity has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of my administration. When questions of propriety are raised, I want to make sure they're answered fully. When the questions concern me, I want to answer them myself.

Questions have now been raised concerning my actions and those of my administration regarding my brother Billy Carter and the Government of Libya. We have made as thorough an investigation as possible, and the facts are available for the committees of Congress and for the public to examine. They will show that neither I nor any member of my administration has violated any law or committed any impropriety. I've today filed a full report with the Congress. I cannot read it all to you tonight, but here are the main points.

Let me first say a word about the U.S. policy toward the nation of Libya.

There are few governments in the world with which we have more sharp and frequent policy disagreements. Libya has steadfastly opposed our efforts to reach and to carry out the Camp David accords to bring peace to the Middle East. Our two governments have strongly different opinions and attitudes toward the PLO and toward international terrorism. Within OPEC, Libya has promoted sharply higher prices of oil and, on occasion, has advocated the interruption of oil supplies to the United States and to other Western nations.

On the other hand, we have substantial trade with Libya. Libya is one of our major oil suppliers, and its high-quality crude oil is important to our east coast refineries. Libya has publicly and privately opposed Iran's seizure and holding of our hostages, and for a time, Libya joined with other Moslem countries in opposing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

So for many years, our policies and actions toward Libya have therefore mixed firmness with caution.

And now I'd like to say a word about my brother's relations with Libya. As all of you know by now, Billy is a colorful personality. We are personally close. I love him, and he loves me. Billy is extremely independent. On occasion he has said, "I don't tell Jimmy how to run the country, and he doesn't tell me how to run my life." When I was elected President, Billy was thrust into the public limelight. Media attention made him an instant celebrity. He was asked to make a number of television and other speaking engagements, and he even put his name on a new brand of beer.

And in the summer of 1978, Billy was invited to visit Libya with a group of businessmen and State officials from Georgia. This highly publicized trip occurred late in September 1978. I was not aware that he was planning the trip until after he had left the United States and shortly before he arrived in Libya. When I heard about it, I was deeply concerned that' there might be some serious or unpleasant incident while he was there.

Shortly after he returned from Libya, in October 1978, I saw a message from our charge in Tripoli reporting on the positive nature of the visit. I was greatly relieved, and I sent a copy of that message to Billy. This message contained no sensitive information, was never encoded, and in fact, more than a year ago it was made publicly available by the State Department to a news columnist.

Early in 1979 a Libyan trade mission came to the United States, visited several localities in our country. Billy visited with the Libyans and made a number of controversial statements, which were roundly criticized both by the press and also by the American public. I publicly deplored, in a news conference, some of those comments myself.

As a result of Billy's remarks and his new association with the Libyans, almost all of his scheduled television and other appearances were canceled. His income from these public appearances almost totally disappeared, while his financial obligations continued to mount.

I shared the general concern about Billy's relationship with Libya, and the members of our family were also concerned about some of his personal problems. During this period, Billy entered the hospital for medical treatment. On one occasion while he was hospitalized, he discussed with me the possibility of another trip to Libya, and I urged him not to go, partly because of his health and partly because of the adverse effect it could have on our Middle East negotiations, which were at a critical stage at that time.

By the late summer of 1979, Billy had successfully completed his medical treatment, and despite my advice he made a second trip to Libya. There was relatively little publicity about this trip.

I am not aware of any effort by Billy to affect this Government's policies or actions concerning Libya. I am certain that he made no such effort with me. The only. occasion on which Billy was involved, to my knowledge, in any matter between Libya and the United States was his participation, with my full approval, in our efforts to seek Libyan help for the return of our hostages from Iran. Let me discuss this incident briefly.

On November the 4th, 1979, our hostages were seized in Tehran. In the weeks that followed, we explored every possible avenue to bring about their release. We increased our military presence in the Persian Gulf, we stopped all oil imports from Iran, and we seized the assets of that country. We appealed to the United Nations Security Council and to the World Court. We asked other governments, and particularly Moslem governments, including Libya, to support our position. As is still the case, we explored every official and unofficial avenue of contact we could find to encourage the Iranians to release the American hostages.

Public statements coming out of Libya at that time were not supportive and indicated that our diplomatic efforts to secure their assistance had not been successful. During the third week in November, it occurred to us that Billy might be able to get the Libyans to help to induce the Iranians to release the American hostages. As requested, he talked to the Libyans about our hostages and arranged a meeting with a Libyan diplomat at the White House. I did not attend that meeting, and so far as I'm aware, Billy played no further role in these discussions with the Libyans.

As matters turned out, the Libyan foreign office announced that the hostages should be released, and the leader of Libya, Colonel Qadhafi, also made the direct private appeal to Ayatollah Khomeini that we requested. At least in this respect, the approach to the Libyans was successful; whether it would have been successful if Billy had not participated is a question that no one can answer with certainty.

I made this decision in good faith, with the best interests of the hostages and our Nation in mind. Billy merely responded to our request for assistance, and I believe his only motive in this effort was to seek release of the American hostages from Iran.

And now, concerning Billy's alleged Government contacts on behalf of Libya: There have been many press reports that Billy may have tried to influence U.S. policy on licensing aircraft to Libya or on other matters. I can state categorically that my brother Billy had no influence or effect on my decisions or on any U.S. Government policy or action concerning Libya. Billy has never asked me to take any step that would affect any of these actions or policies. And so far as we have been able to determine after long and extensive investigation, Billy has not made any such effort with anybody in my administration.

Concerning the Department of Justice investigation, let me say this: Under the President's supervision, law enforcement responsibility is delegated to the Attorney General. The President's power of supervision of the Justice Department was abused in the Watergate scandal, as none of us can ever forget.

When I took office, I instructed the Attorney General, Griffin Bell, that neither I nor any White House official would ever attempt to influence the Department of Justice investigations concerning any charges of law violation. When possible conflict-of-interest issues arise, as in the case of a member of the President's official family or his personal family, we take extra precautions to prevent improper interference.

This policy was followed strictly in the present case from the time the investigation began until the final papers were filed on July the 14th. There was no contact in either direction between the Department of Justice and the White House concerning the conduct of this investigation. On July 22d, the White House issued a public statement to this effect.

Two days later, I found a reference in my notes to brief comments which I had exchanged with Attorney General Civiletti about 6 weeks earlier at the conclusion of a long meeting concerning judicial appointments and other matters. I had not remembered these comments, and I decided that they should be made public. While the July 22d statement was technically correct, it clearly required amplification to disclose these brief comments.

To me, integrity does not mean that a mistake is never made; integrity means that when a mistake is made, even though it's highly technical in nature and was inadvertent, it ought to be disclosed. And that's exactly what we did.

In this brief exchange between myself and the Attorney General, which lasted just—less than a minute, I would guess, the Attorney General did not inform me of any detail as to the conduct of the investigation. He told me only about the Department's insistence that Billy file a registration statement and about the Department's standard enforcement policy.

On June 26th, after I returned from the Venice summit conference, my Counsel notified me that Billy's lawyers hoped to resolve this matter by his filing the registration statement, and I called Billy to encourage him to work harmoniously with his lawyers. He said that his lawyers were in negotiation with the Department of Justice, but that he personally did not think that he needed to file a registration statement. On July the 1st, just a few days later, I called Billy again to urge him to accede to the Department's request and to follow his lawyers' advice and make a full disclosure. He did so on July 14th.

It was not until July the 15th that I knew of the two large payments or loans of money from Libya to my brother. So far as we have been able to determine, no one in the White House had any information about the payments or about any evidence relating to such payments until Billy Carter's lawyers informed my Counsel about them on July the 11th, when the court papers were about to be filed. No one in the White House furnished information about the investigation to Billy or to anyone associated with him at any time.

Finally, there's one more rumor that I would like to lay to rest. No payments or transfers of this money have been made to me, and no such payments or transfers have been made to Carter's Warehouse. And I will also see to it that no direct or indirect benefit of any kind will ever flow to me in the future.

To summarize, Billy has had no influence or effect on my decisions or any U.S. Government policy or on any action concerning Libya. Neither I nor anyone in the White House has ever tried to influence or to affect the Justice Department's actions or decisions. Neither I nor anyone in the White House informed Billy of any leads or evidence obtained by the Department. Everything that I and the White House staff did with respect to this case was designed to serve the interests of law enforcement and justice.

I am deeply concerned that Billy has received funds from Libya and that he may be under obligation to Libya. These facts will have to govern my own relationships with my brother Billy. Billy has had no influence on U.S. policies or actions concerning Libya in the past, and he will have no influence in the future.

Our political history is full of stories about Presidential families and relatives whom other people have tried to use in order to gain favor with incumbent administrations. In most such cases, the appearance of favoritism has been much worse than the reality. My brother Billy's case is one of many such examples. To keep this problem from recurring, I've 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 any circumstances that create either the reality or the appearance of improper favor or influence.

Now I'd be glad to answer questions, if you have them.



Q. Mr. President, on the question of propriety, do you think that it was proper for the Attorney General to tell you to urge Billy to register as a foreign agent and to tell you that he would not be prosecuted if he did so? And also, on the question of the money, you told us where the money didn't go. Do you know where the Libyan payments did go and how Billy used the money?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't know where the money went or where it might go. Billy can answer that question, and I understand he's prepared to answer any questions.

I don't think there's any impropriety at all in the conversation that I had with the Attorney General. He did not ask me to take any action. I did not ask him to take any action. He simply informed me-I believe I can quote his words from my notes—that Billy was foolish not to comply with the Department insistence that he file the registration papers. And he said that if he filed these papers truthfully that the normal procedure of the Department was not to punish or to prosecute a person in that category.


Q. Mr. President, a number of prominent Democrats, Senator Byrd and Mayor Koch of New York among them, have suggested that you might release your convention delegates to vote their preference on the first Presidential ballot. Are there any circumstances under which you would do this, and do you fear that doing so might hurt your chances of getting the nomination?

THE PRESIDENT. I have no plans to do this. I ran in all the primaries, all the caucuses. In that intense political competition, I won about 60 percent of the commitments of the delegates in accordance with the decisions that were made by the 19 million Democrats who participated actively in the primaries and the caucuses. These are not my delegates; they are the Democratic voters' delegates.

This so-called open convention, which is a phrase that's been used by Senator Kennedy and others and picked up broadly by the press, is a gross misnomer. What they actually are calling for is a brokered convention, to induce those delegates to violate their signed pledge or oath that they would go to the convention and vote in accordance with the way the voters cast their ballots back home.

There is a requirement throughout this entire electoral process, a decision made by the Democratic National Committee, unanimously, 18 months before the first caucuses, which were in Iowa, that this is the way the rule would be imposed. All the candidates agreed to it and understood it. And also, there was a requirement that in the States there be a line for uncommitted delegates, who did not want to express their preference. Some uncommitted delegates were chosen. That line was put there to give them that option.

What Senator Kennedy and others are now asking for is for those candidates who are elected by the people who wanted me to be the nominee violate their oath and that all the delegates in effect be uncommitted. This puts back 10 years of progress that the Democratic Party has made to democratize a process and to remove control of the convention from the powerbrokers and put it in the hands of people who go to the polls and vote on primary day or go to the caucuses and select delegates. That's the issue at stake. It's a very simple, clear issue.

My position is that the convention ought not to be a brokered convention, but that the delegates should vote the way the voters back home told them to vote. Others who have lost in the primaries now want to change the rules, after the primaries and caucuses are all over, to go back to the old brokered-type convention.


Q. Mr. President, I've been around a long time, but there are still some questions of a personal nature that are painful to ask. And yet, I feel there is one that must be asked.

THE PRESIDENT. I'll be happy to answer any question.

Q. Accepting your statement that you did not know until mid-July that your brother Billy was getting money


Q. —you say that you are personally very close to him; you love him, and he loves you; and you know him very well. Having known since September 1978 that he was involved in some way doing some work for the Libyan Government, having known more recently through an intelligence report that he was trying to get oil allocations for an oil company in the United States, did it never occur to you, knowing his penchant for get-rich-quick schemes and making money—did it never occur to you that he might be seeking financial gain from that relationship?

Mr. PRESIDENT. Yes, it occurred to me—not as early as you described.

We have several hundred—I think more than 2,000 Americans who live in Libya. As I said, we have major trade relationships with Libya. It's not a completely outcast nation. There are people who go from this country to Libya on a daily basis.

Billy did go to Libya without my knowledge or approval. I think it was in September of 1978. At that time, I don't believe from what I know now that Billy had any idea of becoming anything as a representative for or a special friend of Libya. He went there with some businessmen from Georgia and some members of the State legislature—not secretly, unfortunately; it was a highly publicized trip.

The first special relationship Billy had with Libya was when a Libyan trade delegation came to the United States, in effect to reciprocate that visit by the Georgians. They came to Atlanta; they came to Washington and some other places. Billy, in effect, acted as their host in Georgia. This was an extremely highly publicized and controversial time, and Billy was severely castigated in the press and by many American citizens, as I said, including myself in one news Conference, for some of the remarks he made.

Following that, I tried to encourage Billy not to go to Libya. In the documents that I filed with the congressional committees this afternoon, there's one letter that I wrote to Billy while he was in the hospital in California—the letter is a matter of record— encouraging him not to go to Libya. Obviously, I was concerned. But I don't have authority to order Billy to do something. It's not illegal for him to make a trip to Libya, for instance. I had no knowledge at all of any payment that was made to Billy. But of course, I was concerned about his relationship with Libya, wish he never had any relationship with Libya.

So, I can't condone what he has done. I'm not trying to make excuses. Anyone who knows Billy knows that no one can push him around. And I think that we used an adequate amount of personal persuasion, when I had the opportunity, then the telephone call from Dr. Brzezinski, warning Billy not that his action was illegal, as known, but that he might cause embarrassment to our country and embarrassment to me. I don't believe that there's anything further that I could have done that would have been effective.

Q. Mr. President, you said just a few minutes ago, sir, in your opening remarks, that neither you nor any member of your administration had violated any law or committed any impropriety.

THE PRESIDENT. That is correct.

Q. But, sir, don't you think that by using your brother, Billy Carter, at least as an emissary to make a contact with a foreign government—don't you feel that perhaps it might have been better judgment to have used a trained diplomat in that capacity?

THE PRESIDENT. No, not in that particular instance concerning the hostages. We were using trained diplomats. Immediately after the hostages were seized, this became an absolute, total obsession of mine, to get those hostages released. We inventoried every possibility of influence on the Iranians to induce them to release our hostages, safely and immediately. We sent messages—and had our diplomats in those countries and contacted their diplomats in Washington—to almost every nation on Earth, every one that we thought might have the slightest semblance of influence with Iran. We especially thought that the Moslem countries, believing in the Koran, having the same religion as the Ayatollah Khomeini, might have a special influence.

We had tried through diplomatic means to get Libya to give us some support in condemning the Iranian action and calling for the release of the hostages. Up through the 18th of November, the public statements coming out of Libya-and these are documented in Dr. Brzezinski's report had been negative, against our position, in effect supporting the holding of the hostages. Some private comments from Libyan diplomats to our diplomats in the United Nations, for instance, had said, "We would like to help you," but the public comments, which were the important ones, were contrary to that.

Under those circumstances, I decided to use Billy to see if he could have some special influence to get the Libyans to help. I had no reticence about it.

That was the same day that the religious fanatics attacked the mosque in Saudi Arabia. It was the same day, I believe, that Khomeini announced that the hostages, American hostages, would be tried and, if convicted, Khomeini said, "Jimmy Carter knows what's going to happen to them." We thought that the hostages' lives were directly in danger.

I saw then and see now nothing wrong with asking Billy and other private citizens to try to help if it's appropriate and legal. The only thing Billy did was to contact the Libyans, whom he knew personally-he does not know Qadhafi, but he did know the charge in Washington—and say, "We would like very much to have your help in having the hostages released. Will you meet with Dr. Brzezinski at the White House," a week from then, which was the 27th day of November.

Billy then met a week later with Dr. Brzezinski and the charge, and we believe that some progress was made. As I said in my opening statement, I cannot say for sure that Billy had anything in the world to do with the progress that was made. But 2 days after Billy contacted the charge, they made a public announcement for the first time, Libya did, calling for the release of the hostages. After that meeting, Colonel Qadhafi himself sent a personal emissary to Khomeini, asking Khomeini for the first time to release our hostages, and then he sent me word that he had done so.

I'm not trying to claim great things from that small involvement of Billy. But Billy came up to Washington, so far as I know, at his own expense on two occasions. He went back to Plains. He never told anybody publicly that he had done it. He never bragged about it. And I have enough judgment to know that that may have enhanced Billy's stature in the minds of the Libyans. That's the only down side to it that I can understand. And that may have been bad judgment, but I was the one that made the judgment. I did what I thought was best for our country and best for the hostages, and I believe that that's exactly what Billy was doing.


Q. Aside from the questions of legality and propriety, some of your critics say that this Billy Carter case is another example of a general aura of incompetence that hangs over your Presidency—the fits and starts with which the case came out, the corrections, the records, the recollections that had to be refreshed. Do you recognize that there is this charge of incompetence that settles over you, and if so, what are you going to do about it?

THE PRESIDENT. I've heard you mention that on television a few times, but I don't agree with it. No, I think the historic record of this administration, years looking back, will show that it was a competent administration, that it accurately represented the ideals of the American people and had many notable achievements. I need not enumerate those now.

But I don't believe that this is a comedy of errors or that we have made many errors—a few, yes. We've made some mistakes, because we were in a hurry to get all the information out. It was much better to have the information come out as we determined it than it would be if we had withheld all information and, in effect, stonewalled the question for 2 or 3 weeks.

It might very well be that in the future we discover some new fact or someone comes up and makes a statement that we didn't know about. If so, we will immediately make that information available to you and the other news media. But I think that's the best way to handle it, and I don't have any concern about having acted other than competently in this case.


Q. Next week you go before the Democratic Convention to seek renomination, as we all know.

THE PRESIDENT. I remember. [Laughter]

Q. Not only given the state of the press conference tonight but looking ahead to such matters as the economy, inflation, growing unemployment, recession, troubles abroad, will you offer yourself to the delegates of the Democratic Convention as a man proposing changes or will you simply say the country should have 4 more years of the same?

THE PRESIDENT. Four more years of the same President, with changes and progress to be achieved during those 4 years.

We have economic problems. I think every nation on Earth has them—some much worse than we. We've made some progress. We've never had as many jobs added, for instance, in the first 3 1/2 years, in any period of our history as we have since I've been in office. Lately we've seen a substantial lowering of interest rates and inflation rate. I think we'll see some more progress made on inflation in the next few months. I believe that we have established a very good working relationship between our country and other nations, opened up new friendships, maintained this country at peace, and so forth. I need not enumerate what I think we've done that is good.

But I believe that the most important part of an election year is to give the American people an opportunity to hear the issues debated, the record assessed for the incumbent, and then to let the American people choose: Do we want the Nation for the next 4 years to be led by the Republicans, or do we want it led by the Democrats? And specifically, do we want it led by Ronald Reagan, or do we want it to be led by the Democratic nominee? And I am expecting it to be myself. And in that process, with, I hope, numerous debates between me and Ronald Reagan on all the issues that are important to the American people, the American people will make a judgment.

This is the way I've always run for office, the way I ran in 1976. I think we have an excellent record to take to the American people and an excellent prospect for an even better life in this country in the years ahead.


Q. Mr. President, you say you and your brother Billy are close. Have you had any conversations with him since the July 1 phone call, when you urged him to register, and can you characterize those conversations?

THE PRESIDENT. I have not had any conversations with Billy since July the 1st except in a crowd of people at a softball game in Plains, and I went into his service station one day to invite him to play softball the following day. I've never discussed this case or Libya or government or anything of that kind and have not spoken a word to Billy in private since July the 1st, the conversation that I've described to you.

You can ask a followup question, if you like.

Q. Mr. President, do you think you should be discussing it with him?

THE PRESIDENT. No. I think it's improper for me now to be having a direct conversation with Billy. There have been some communications between us through our attorneys, through my Counsel in the White House and through his attorneys. But they've been completely proper, and records have been maintained of them. And I believe that's the best way to handle this matter until it is resolved.

As I said in the closing part of my statement, even in the future, regardless of the outcome of this occurrence, I will not accept any benefit from the funds that Billy has received. And also, as long as I have the slightest suspicion that Billy is still involved with Libya, I will exclude any sort of relationship between myself and Billy that relates to government matters that could possibly impact on Libya.

Q. Mr. President, I have talked to hundreds of Democrats, and I think that in the White House you have more fear of this affair than there is need for. All people tell me that they have great confidence in you, although they might consider that you had a little bit more heart for your brother than for the Presidency. In your own assessment, did you act as a President or as a brother?

THE PRESIDENT. I think Billy would say that I acted more as a President than a brother, and I think I have. My responsibility, uniquely, is to the Presidency and the upholding of the principles of our Nation, and I'm sworn by oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the laws of our Nation. If any member of my family should violate those laws, then I'm charged with the responsibility, which I would not avoid, to see that the law is carried out, no matter if my own family members should suffer. And this is the process that is presently ongoing: an investigation and the decision to be made by the Justice Department, without my involvement.

I have not promoted this incident; in fact, I wish that it had never been promoted by the press and by the interest of the American people. But since it has become a burning issue in the minds of many people, with headlines and evening news stories, sometimes even dominating the day's news events, my commitment has been, the last 2 or 3 weeks, to search out all the facts that I could find and lay them before the American people in two ways: one, through the investigating committees in the Congress, House and Senate; and secondly, here, with a brief statement telling the facts and then to answer your questions. But this group is at liberty to ask me questions about other matters as well as this.

Q. Mr. President, regarding your mention of your responsibility to enforce the laws, since your adviser, Dr. Peter Bourne,1 was never prosecuted for his phony drug prescription taken across the State line, how can you expect the Justice Department to be taken seriously by Billy, regarding admitting he's an agent and telling the truth about the money they gave him?

THE PRESIDENT. I think you could ask Billy whether or not he takes the Justice Department seriously. My belief is that he does. And I don't think anyone in this Nation who has any confidence in our country's laws and the enforcement of them would take the Justice Department any way but seriously. It's a serious matter, and it'll be handled accordingly.

1 Former Special Assistant to the President for Health Issues and Director of the Office of Drug Abuse Policy.


Q. Mr. President, you referred to rumors about some of this money going to you—

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, I've read that in the paper, and allegations have been made by Members of the Congress. That's why I wanted to answer it.

Q. Do you have any joint economic investments with Billy? I think of the Carter trust or what's left of the warehouse holdings or property. Have you tried to help Billy financially through the blind-trust arrangement, through Mr. Kirbo, and the blind-trust arrangement in—I think he's got tax liens on his house that sort of thing?

THE PRESIDENT. When I became President, I announced to the American people that I was putting my financial affairs into a trust, under a trustee. Legally, it's not a blind trust, because it's impossible for me, as President, not to read news stories and other reports that come from Plains and from the warehouse affairs. But to the best of my ability, I've stayed aloof from that. I've not made any decisions, and they've been handled in accordance with the law, sometimes publicly by my trustee. Also, I pledged myself, as President, annually to release my income tax return, which is prepared by other people—but I have to sign it—and also my financial statement, which I've done each time.

But within that boundary, I have not been involved in financial affairs of the warehouse. There is still a relationship between Billy and the warehouse and myself and the warehouse. That Carter's Warehouse has been rented out now ever since the first year I was in office, and I have had absolutely nothing to do with it or its financial condition.


Q. Mr. President, you have answered our questions very openly. You have said that there were no instances in this matter of illegality, wrongdoing, impropriety. You told one of my colleagues that this was really not a question of bad judgment. You told another colleague it's not a question of incompetence. Given all of that, simply put, how do you think you got into this big mess?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I think the American press and the public will have to judge how big a mess it is. It's been a highly publicized affair. But if the facts, as I have given them to you, are confirmed, if no one in my administration-and if I myself—have committed any illegal act or impropriety, then I think that's been an investigation and a report that's served itself well.

The Justice Department is investigating still. There have been literally dozens and dozens of people who have searched their telephone records and appointment records and their memoranda of conversations. And the Congress is going to investigate it. So, I believe that this is a good way to go about resolving a question once it's raised.

I do not approve of the fact that my brother has gotten involved in a controversial relationship with an extremely unpopular government. He has, still, certain legal and constitutional rights. If he is found to have violated the law, my belief is and my hope is that he will be treated properly in accordance with the law-punished if he's guilty, exonerated if he's innocent.

But I have seen these things sweep across this Nation every now and then, with highly publicized allegations that prove not to be true. And you and others have participated in the raising of these questions. One incident that comes to mind is Hamilton Jordan, where people, later found to have lied, told stories about Hamilton Jordan, and a thorough investigation, absolutely independently of me, with a special prosecutor involved from the Justice Department, found that the allegations were not true. But for a time it was a highly publicized case, which damaged Hamilton Jordan quite a lot.

I don't know what the outcome of this case will be. But I can tell you that no one in my administration—and I have not been guilty of an illegality or an impropriety in any way, and I believe that the facts in the future will determine that to be the case.


Q. Mr. President, you said in the report that you issued tonight—you confirmed the fact that your wife, Rosalynn Carter, was the first person to initiate the idea of using your brother Billy as the contact regarding the Iranian hostages—

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, that's correct.

Q.—that she called him directly and then informed you later, and you asked Dr. Brzezinski to pursue the matter. I want to ask you what you think that says about her role in this administration and what the public should conclude about it? And secondly, given this regulation that you have asked your Counsel to draft on members of the family and the staff-THE PRESIDENT. Yes.

Q.—whether you have any second thoughts in hindsight about family diplomacy and the virtues of that, and members of the President's family going to represent him or the country abroad at ceremonies and the like?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I don't have any trepidation about continuing the policy that I have pursued in that respect.

I think it's completely appropriate for Rosalynn to have thought about how we could get the hostages released and to have called Billy to see if he thought he could possibly help. When he said that he might be able to help, she informed me of that idea. I considered it. I'm the one that made the decision, not my wife or Dr. Brzezinski or anyone else. And I decided that it was a good idea. And I told Dr. Brzezinski to call Billy and pursue it, which he did. That was the limit of her role in the entire process.

But I think it's very important that my mother on occasion, my sons on occasion, my wife on occasion participate in international affairs. When Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, died, my mother went to represent me at her funeral. She also went to the funeral of Marshal Tito, President Tito, and so forth.

So, this is the kind of thing that a President's family legitimately ought to be able to do. With many cultures in the world, many countries in the world, a President's family member plays an extremely important role in demonstrating an important personal relationship, particularly in the inauguration of a new President if I cannot go, for instance, or the death of a prominent member of that national community. I think these kinds of things are completely appropriate.

What I want the Counsel to draft is a rule that would bar any employee of the executive branch from dealing with any member of my family under any circumstances that create either the reality or the appearance of improper favor or influence. That doesn't mean that all the members of my family have to be locked up in a closet and never appear in public, because they play a very useful role. But I believe that their appearances have been proper, when Rosalynn or my mother have attended these kinds of state affairs. And I expect that they will continue to do so.


Q. Mr. President, Edward Bennett Williams, as you know, is taking a leading role in seeking to undo the faithful delegate rule. Mr. Williams is a close personal associate of the Secretary of State. And we see now signs of the draft Muskie movement—bumper stickers, I wonder whether this has caused some kind of strain between you and the Secretary of State.

THE PRESIDENT. No, it has not. Secretary Muskie has actively attempted to stop this effort to subvert the rules of the Democratic Party and to violate the oath or the promise or the pledge that the delegates have made to follow the mandates expressed in the primaries and caucuses. He has not promoted himself; he's tried to discourage that. He's issued a public statement on the subject. And I have no doubt that this effort is not only independent of him but I doubt whether they are genuinely interested in the promotion of Secretary Muskie. They are probably interested in the promotion of someone else.


Q. Mr. President, on June 17th, Mr. President, which was 15 days after Attorney General Civiletti found out about the payments and a month before you say you found out about the payments to your brother, you have said tonight that the Attorney General told you, informed you of the seriousness of the possible charges against your brother and told you that it would be foolish, in your own words, foolish for him not to file papers. Was he, do you not.

THE PRESIDENT. That's not exactly what he said, but go ahead.

Q. Well, let me just ask the question.


Q. Do you not see an impropriety there, in the sense of your being told between the lines, even if you weren't told directly about the money, that your brother was in trouble and unless somebody got the word to him to come in voluntarily and file, there could be serious charges filed against him? Is that not the impropriety here?

THE PRESIDENT. No, there is no impropriety. That's not what the Attorney General told me, by the way, exactly. He said, first of all, that he could not reveal to me and would not reveal to me any detail or any facts about the investigation that was ongoing. Secondly, he said he thought that Billy was foolish not to comply with the registration act, and third, he said that if Billy did not comply truthfully, then he would not be prosecutable or, I think I jotted down in my notes, punished.

At that time, my understanding is—and this should be confirmed by you from other sources—at that time, my understanding now is that the Justice Department was already relaying this exact same information to Billy's attorneys and therefore to him. I never revealed the conversation to anyone. As a matter of fact, it was a very brief conversation—I have said probably less than a minute in all—at the end of a long meeting with the Attorney General, and several other items were taken up in the privacy of that meeting. But I didn't think about it until days later, and I never revealed any of that information to anyone else and never acted on any information I got.

Q. So if the Justice Department was informing Billy at the same time that you were learning of this from the Justice Department, you're saying, in effect, that there was no need, even, for anyone in the White House to let Billy know that he should come in and voluntarily admit that he was an agent?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, I'm not sure-I don't know of any allegation that hasn't been refuted. Nobody in the White House, myself or anyone else, ever gave Billy any information that related to his case, any evidence, or any leads or anything else. So, that question didn't cross my mind.

But from what I know now, looking back on it, after we've investigated thoroughly and I have seen the order of events that did take place, I can tell you that the Attorney General was telling me the same thing, in effect—I've just outlined to you the totality of the conversation, according to my notes—that they were telling the lawyers of my brother prior to that time. I think Billy got those lawyers the 11th or 12th, which was about a week before this conversation took place.

Q. it didn't occur to you that the Attorney General was saying to you between the lines, "Your brother has taken a lot of money," or maybe

THE PRESIDENT. No. No, I never had any indication that Billy was taking any money until I read about it in the newspaper on July the 15th. And the first person, so far as I know, in the entire White House that knew about any money payments was my Counsel, who was informed on the 11th of July, just before those official papers were completed for filing with the Justice Department.


Q. Mr. President, you said that you were obsessed with the hostages and that's why you called your brother in. Do you have any new ideas for freeing the hostages now?

THE PRESIDENT. No, we are pursuing the same kind of degree of effort that we were then.

I think I tried to point out, as best I could remember, a couple of things that were happening at that time—the threat by Khomeini that the hostages might be killed and the fact that the Grand Mosque in Jidda was—in Mecca, I think was attacked by radical believers in the Moslem faith. Those were the kind of things that were causing me great concern.

The approach to Libya, although now it has taken on great significance, here, 9 or 10 months later, was one of a broad pattern of things that I was doing, the National Security Council was doing, everyone in the State Department assigned to this task was doing, and many private citizens were doing. And there was nothing extraordinary about it. It was just one of a broad gamut of things that we were attempting to do in every possible way to get word to Khomeini that it was better for Iran to release those hostages.


Q. Mr. President, were you aware, sir, of the arrangement with the Charter Oil Company that would have given your brother a commission on oil imported-that he got imported from Libya, when you talked with his friend, Jack McGregor, in the Oval Office?

THE PRESIDENT. No, I was not. The only information I had about Jack McGregor was I talked to Billy in the hospital; he told me that his former commanding officer in the Marine Corps was scheduled to come to the White House for a briefing on hospital cost containment. There were about 400 business leaders who had been chosen by my staff without my participation at all.

McGregor, on that hospital cost containment briefing day, came by the Oval Office, had an appointment for a stand-up photograph. We never sat down, even. We stood over by my desk. The records show that he was there a total of 9 minutes. We discussed some of his and Billy's experiences in the Marine Corps, and we discussed Billy's illness and how he was responding well to treatment in the hospital. And McGregor mentioned Billy's financial problems and said he hoped that he would be successful in working out of them. No reference was ever made to anything concerning oil companies or anything of that nature.


Q. Mr. President, your spokesman, Mr. Powell, has said, in defending your use of your brother as an intermediary—and you have alluded to this as well—that we'd be very surprised some day when we hear of some of the other unorthodox emissaries you've used, channels to other countries to try and secure the release of the hostages. Can you surprise us a little and tell us who they are, who some of them might be? And might we be embarrassed by the revelations of any of their names?

THE PRESIDENT. No, you wouldn't be embarrassed, but I think maybe the surprise ought to come later.


Q. Mr. President, you have about 300 more delegates than are required for the nomination. And so for another candidate to get the Democratic Presidential nomination, he would need to attract some of these delegates.


Q. Yet you've said if someone did that, they would be subverting the rules of the Democratic Party. And you said last week—

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, they would.

Q.—that it would be a travesty if any of these delegates wandered away. So, if someone else is nominated at the convention in New York, would you be able to support that nominee, or would you only be able to support yourself?

THE PRESIDENT. I have always pledged, since the very beginning of my effort, to support the nominee of the Democratic Party if it should not be myself.


Q. Mr. President, in going back to the conversation with Attorney General Civiletti on June the 17th, you said that the knowledge of—let me say, Justice Department policy in handling foreign agents was general knowledge. Why then, sir, did you need to inquire of the Attorney General whether your brother would be prosecuted if he went ahead and registered as a foreign agent?

THE PRESIDENT. I didn't say it was general knowledge. I was not familiar then with the exact policy that the Attorney Generals down through history had followed.

I think this Foreign Registration Act was passed in the 1930's. I noticed an article in one of the Washington papers not too long ago that said that since the 1960's there had been no criminal prosecutions under that act. Ordinarily, what the Department does, I now know, is to confront a person who is suspected or believed to be an agent of a foreign country, present them with the alternatives if they do not file, and require them to file. And that's what Billy's lawyers finally advised him to do, was to file as an agent—I don't know if my brother ever admitted it or acknowledged that he was an agent-but to file as an agent and if he had extenuating remarks to make, to put those remarks in the registration papers. That's what Billy did.

At the time the Attorney General talked to me, I did not know what I have just described to you as a standard policy of the Department in handling these kinds of cases.

Q. Mr. President, what kind of information did our intelligence agencies gather about Billy's activities trying to set up the oil deal with Libya? And specifically, were they concerned that Billy was part of a wide-ranging and massive effort by the Libyans to influence the public opinion and the Government here?

THE PRESIDENT. That intelligence information has been delivered to the Senate intelligence committee. It's of a highly sensitive nature, and I'm not at liberty to reveal it in public.


Q. Mr. President, you have some more trouble coming, I'm sorry.

THE PRESIDENT. I'm sure I do. [Laughter]

Q. [Inaudible]—this week with that Bayh committee over there. It's been told to about a half-dozen Senators by an intelligence organization from New York City that you and the State Department-


Q. —and Brzezinski are conniving with Nazarian, the rug dealer, to let pro-Khomeini people come in here and engage in certain terrorist activities in exchange for getting the hostages home. Any truth to that?



Q. Mr. President, if you were to look at the convention from a slightly different point of view, and you were a delegate heading up to New York next week and you had an incumbent President who's as low as you are in the polls and has the difficulty of a congressional investigation facing him, how would you feel about the prospect of renominating that same President?

THE PRESIDENT. I would feel okay. [Laughter] I would take my written pledge to be very seriously binding on me. If I was from Plains, Georgia, and the voters who went to the ballot box in Plains had voted for a candidate, candidate A, and I was later chosen as their delegate, then I would feel bound to go and cast my vote at the convention in accordance with the way people had voted in Plains, regardless of whether I personally thought at that moment that the candidate I was chosen to support was above the Republicans in the public opinion polls.

I think this time 4 years ago, I was much further ahead of President Ford than I am behind, as I saw in a Newsweek poll, today. But polls go up and down. And when President Ford wound up the campaign, he was very close to me. Also, I think you'll remember that last October the polls showed that I was three or four to one behind Senator Kennedy and if he ran, the almost sure prospect was that he would win the nomination. That has not proven to be the case.

So, the polls ought not to be the deciding factor. The pledge on a written document that a delegate will comply with the votes cast in his own district or area is important. Also, the fact that the Democratic Party, through its national committee, unanimously voted to institute these rules before the primary season even started is also a very important factor. That's what we're trying to protect.


Q. Thank you, sir.

Mr. President, the problem of oppression of blacks in this country is extremely serious. We've had riots in Miami; we've had riots in Chattanooga. Is there any way that you can begin to address this problem? If you think Billy has problems, you'd better be glad he's not black. But the real issue becomes one of, is there something that you, as President of this country, would do to begin to address these problems before it blows up?

THE PRESIDENT. Yes. In the Miami case, I went to Miami, as you know, met with the leaders in Liberty City, and helped to put together a package, working with those black leaders there, that would give them some economic assistance. Through the Community Services Agency and others, we provided food, for instance, at about 35-percent less cost than the supermarket charges. And we've tried to provide jobs. And we've tried to work also—I have personally—with the white and Cuban leaders in Miami, to make sure that there was harmony between the three races.

In addition to that, I sent the Attorney General to Miami to make sure that the apparent absence of complete application of justice for highly publicized cases concerning black citizens was corrected. And the Attorney General directed his people to go into Miami and to make sure that the trials involved were fair.

In addition to that, on a much more broad basis, I have tried to put black citizens in my administration to administer those areas of the Federal Government that were particularly important to a black or minority citizen. We have required by law, with the help of the Congress, that a certain portion of all Federal contracts and the deposit of Federal funds in banks and the allocation of charters for new radio stations and so forth, that have long been withheld from blacks and other minorities, be assigned to them. I've also tried to appoint black Federal judges, who will be here long after I'm gone, to administer justice, to make sure that we didn't have a further deprivation of our black citizens.

So, on a broad range of issues, I've tried to do the best I can and will continue to do the best I can to eliminate any discrimination or any injustice in this country for minority citizens.

Thank you all very much.

Note: The President's fifty-eighth news conference began at 9 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. It was broadcast live on radio and television.

Jimmy Carter, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251538

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives