Billy Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya President’s Brother Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Billy Carter, the brother of U.S. president Jimmy Carter, reportedly received $220,000 in loans from the government of Libya between 1978 and 1980. The U.S. Justice Department agreed not to indict the president’s brother but required him to register as a Libyan agent. Given that Libya was a suspected terrorist state, Billy’s association with the Libyan government damaged his brother’s 1980 campaign for reelection.

Summary of Event

Billy Carter, the younger brother of U.S. president Jimmy Carter, was notorious throughout his brother’s presidency for his involvement in a variety of scandals. The most serious was his association with Libya, deemed by the United States to be a state sponsor of terrorism. [kw]Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya, President’s Brother, Billy (Late July, 1980) Carter, Billy Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;and Billy Carter[Carter] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Jimmy Carter[Carter] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1980 Libya Carter, Billy Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;and Billy Carter[Carter] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Jimmy Carter[Carter] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1980 Libya [g]United States;Late July, 1980: President’s Brother, Billy Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya[01880] [g]Libya;Late July, 1980: President’s Brother, Billy Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya[01880] [c]Corruption;Late July, 1980: President’s Brother, Billy Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya[01880] [c]International relations;Late July, 1980: President’s Brother, Billy Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya[01880] [c]Politics;Late July, 1980: President’s Brother, Billy Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya[01880] [c]Government;Late July, 1980: President’s Brother, Billy Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya[01880] [c]Law and the courts;Late July, 1980: President’s Brother, Billy Carter, Registers as a Paid Agent for Libya[01880] Lance, Bert Civiletti, Benjamin

Billy achieved notoriety immediately after his brother became president. He attracted the media and tourists to his service station in the Carter family’s hometown of Plains, Georgia. There, he regaled his audiences with his colorful language, beer drinking, and outrageous commentary. He became a popular entertainer, making up to $500,000 a year appearing on television talk shows and at sports events around the country while his popularity lasted. However, Billy soon became an embarrassment to the president because of his perceived corruption.

Billy Carter just prior to his appearance before a session of the special Senate Judiciary subcommittee regarding his dealings with Libya.

AP/Wide World Photos)

A congressional investigation involving Bert National Bank of Georgia Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;and Bert Lance[Lance] Lance, President Carter’s director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), uncovered evidence of corrupt financial practices during Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign. Lance, as president of the National Bank of Georgia, had approved loans and a line of credit in the amount of $3.65 million to Billy and Jimmy Carter and the Carter Peanut Warehouse, which Billy managed. On September 23, 1976, Lance increased the line of credit for the Carter Warehouse to $9 million. Despite Lance’s resignation as OMB director on September 21, 1977, both he and Billy remained under investigation.

In November, 1978, Billy was called to testify and produce records showing how the loan money was spent. Carter Warehouse records showed much less money spent for the warehouse business than was received in loans approved by Lance. The investigators questioned Billy as to whether the loan money was transferred illegally into his brother’s 1976 campaign fund. Five times during his testimony, Billy asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions on grounds of possible self-incrimination. Lance was acquitted. He then returned to Calhoun, Georgia, and again became chairman of the National Bank of Georgia. He acquired new partners and investors, four of whom were influential Arab businessmen.

Questions about Billy’s financial dealings drew more attention when he made several visits to Libya between 1978 and 1980. Billy’s first visit in 1978 was an all-expenses-paid trip with Georgia legislators and businessmen seeking investments and business deals with Libya. In addition to his travel expenses, Billy received several gifts valued at about $3,000. In 1978, Libya was providing only 10 percent of United States oil imports, and it wanted to increase that percentage. The U.S. National Security Council briefed Billy and cautioned him against saying or doing anything that would disturb the delicate peace negotiations that were under way in the Middle East. An investigation by the U.S. Justice Department in 1980 revealed that Billy had accepted the Libyans’ offer of a commission for using his influence to arrange the sale of additional oil to the United States. The Libyans promised him loans up to $500,000 in advance of any earned commissions. Billy later admitted that he had received $220,000 in loans from Libya.

Following his 1978 visit to Libya, Billy arranged a reception for Libyan delegates visiting Georgia and organized the Libyan-Arab-Georgia-Friendship Society to promote further business relations. At that time, Libya was trying to purchase C-130 transport planes from the United States, but President Carter had blocked the sale because of Libyan terrorist activities. Libya wanted Billy to influence his brother to cancel that embargo.

In January, 1979, Congress was pressuring the Justice Department to investigate President Carter’s possible involvement with his brother’s Libyan dealings. The U.S. attorney general privately tried to persuade Billy to register as an agent for Libya under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which allows citizens to lobby for the interests of a foreign government. Billy refused, saying that the Libyans were his friends and that he was not a foreign agent.

In March, under increasing pressure from the U.S. Congress, the Justice Department began a formal investigation to determine whether Billy was violating the law in his dealings with Libya and whether the president was participating in the Libyan deals. President Carter denied any knowledge of his brother’s financial dealings with Libya.

In August, Billy spent an entire month in Libya, celebrating the tenth anniversary of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s successful revolution and takeover of the Libyan government. By June, 1980, the Justice Department was certain that Billy’s loans from Libya were compensation for using his influence upon the president to further Libya’s interests. By July, daily media reports featured what came to be called “Billygate” "Billygate"[Billygate] and began to compare President Carter’s alleged cover-up of his Libyan dealings to President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

On July 22, both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives called for a full investigation and pressed Carter to disclose everything he knew of his brother’s Libyan activities. Carter admitted that he had asked Billy to use his influence with his Libyan friends to help arrange the release of American hostages held in Iran;hostage crisis Iran. Later, the president released secret cables from Libya concerning oil dealings and the purchase of C-130 transport planes. Carter also acknowledged that Billy had been given access to those cables and other U.S. State Department documents. The Senate investigation further revealed that Billy’s connection with Libya may have been linked with Robert Vesco, a fugitive financier who was fighting extradition back to the United States. Vesco told Senate investigators that he had helped arrange the initial contacts between Billy and the Libyans.

The Senate investigation committee, growing impatient with U.S. attorney general Benjamin Civiletti’s so-called foot-dragging on the Billy Carter investigation, called for Civiletti’s resignation. In late July, Civiletti brought Billy in for questioning. After Billy admitted that he had received $220,000 from Libya, the attorney general informed him that he was facing criminal charges for influence peddling on behalf of Libya. Civiletti recommended again that Billy register as a Libyan agent. Billy then contacted White House counsel Lloyd Cutler, who referred him to two Washington, D.C., attorneys. Billy’s attorneys met with Justice Department lawyers and worked out an agreement whereby he would register as a Libyan agent and thus avoid criminal prosecution. Under threat of criminal prosecution, Billy finally registered as an agent for the Libyan government.

Impact

The Billygate "Billygate"[Billygate] scandal was highly publicized in 1980, the year of President Carter’s reelection campaign for the presidency. Comparison of Billygate to Watergate was inevitable because Jimmy Carter had run his 1976 campaign on promises of a corruption-free, honest, and open government that would be completely different from Nixon’s. Billygate had a broad impact because Billy’s activities brought the president’s own integrity into question.

President Carter admitted that he could not control his brother’s activities. Billy had no official position from which he could be fired or asked to resign, as had Lance and others in the Carter administration. President Carter’s competence was already in question because of his administration’s failures to alleviate problems in the economy, such as high interest rates and a high unemployment rate, as well as address the oil and gas crisis, and Carter seemed unable to resolve the Iran;hostage crisis Iranian hostage situation. Billygate made the president’s integrity as well as his competency an important issue in the 1980 campaign. Consequently, Carter lost his bid for reelection and Republican Ronald Reagan became president. Libya Carter, Billy Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;and Billy Carter[Carter] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Jimmy Carter[Carter] Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1980

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brinkley, Douglas G. The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Quest for Global Peace. New York: Viking Press, 1998. Details Jimmy Carter’s postpresidency activities, including his intrusions into foreign affairs during succeeding presidencies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carter, Jimmy. Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President. 1982. New ed. New York: Bantam Books, 1995. A collection of memories by Carter that includes commentary on the scandals of his administration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carter, William. Billy Carter: A Journey Through the Shadows. Atlanta: Longstreet Press, 1999. A narrative of Billy Carter’s life, including the scandals, from his son’s point of view.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jordan, Hamilton. Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1982. Carter’s chief of staff discusses multiple crises that affected Carter’s reelection campaign, including Billygate.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lasky, Victor. Jimmy Carter: The Man and the Myth. New York: Richard Marek, 1979. Provides details of the numerous Carter administration scandals that were never fully investigated, in contrast to the unrelenting pursuit of Nixon in the Watergate scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mollenhoff, Clark R. The President Who Failed: Carter Out of Control. New York: Macmillan, 1980. An investigative journalist discusses the Carter administration’s incompetence and corruption and questions why the national media seemed reluctant to expose the Carter scandals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Strong, Robert. Working in the World: Jimmy Carter and the Making of U.S. Foreign Policy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000. Describes obstacles and strategies involved in the formation of Carter’s approach to global politics.

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