Last Day In Office: President Carter

Jody Powell, who served as President Jimmy Carter's press secretary, talks about Carter's final 24 hours in office. He shares with NPR's Melissa Block personal memories about what it's like as one family moves in the White House and another moves out.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. Tomorrow, there will be a carefully orchestrated dance at the White House - one family moving in as another moves out. And the nation's business segues from one presidency to another.

We've asked two presidential aides to talk to us about that last day in office, to share their personal memories of a presidency in its final hours. And first, we'll hear from Jody Powell. He was press secretary for Jimmy Carter for all four years in the White House. Mr. Powell, welcome.

Mr. JODY POWELL (Former Press Secretary, President Jimmy Carter): Thank you.

BLOCK: Tell us about the last moments of the Carter administration. This came at a turning point in the hostage crisis with Iran.

Mr. POWELL: I think those last few days of the Carter administration are probably unique in the sense that seldom has a president been so intensely involved in an issue of such delicacy and importance right up until just the final hours. We were, of course, working to get our hostages released from Iran. That was done, and they were on their way out shortly after President Carter left office.

BLOCK: And you're saying President Carter was really in the Oval Office for that - for the duration as these last details were worked out?

Mr. POWELL: He was in the Oval Office for the entire last 48 hours, as were a number of the rest of us, either in the Oval Office or in the White House.

BLOCK: When did you sleep?

Mr. POWELL: We didn't, really. I slept some in my office. I don't think he slept at all for those last 48 hours.

BLOCK: You know, I'm trying to picture this because as President Carter was involved in these last-minute negotiations, at the same time, there had to have been a cast of characters around the White House, packing things up in the Oval Office, getting ready for the new administration.

Mr. POWELL: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you need to be out of there by noon on inauguration day. And so, as we were doing that work, we were also packing up our offices and our papers. We were helping our staff members find jobs, and we were doing the best we could to help the incoming administration learn the ropes, help them get - be ready to hit the ground running.

BLOCK: Mr. Powell, do you look back and wish you maybe had had a bit of a calmer stretch there so you could've, you could have savored those last minutes, and President Carter could have as well, in the White House?

Mr. POWELL: Actually, I've thought about it both ways. I certainly wish there had never been a hostage crisis, but I really do think it was better to be busy. It was better to be working up to the last minute than to be sitting, sort of twiddling your thumbs and thinking about what might have been, and all of that. It was the way I would have chosen to walk out of that building.

BLOCK: And you think President Carter felt the same way?

Mr. POWELL: I think that's exactly right. I think that's exactly right. And I think all of us that were so immersed in that issue ended up feeling that way - that way, too.

BLOCK: Mr. Powell, thank you.

Mr. POWELL: Thank you.

BLOCK: Jody Powell was press secretary for President Jimmy Carter.

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