Almost five months ago, Richard Perle put Seymour Hersh on notice that a libel suit was coming his way in retaliation for his piece in The New Yorker. But rather than filing his suit in, say, a court of law, Perle picked a friendlier venue—the news pages of the neoconservative New York Sun —to air his first pleading.
Perle told the Sun he would sue Hersh in Britain because it's easier to win a case there, a legal strategy the Sun conveyed to its readers with all the art and subtlety of a press release. If the Sun were a court of law and Sun co-owner Conrad Black were its judge, Hersh would be pounding rocks on Devil's Island right now.
But the Sun isn't, nor is Black, and as a consequence, Hersh prowls the earth a free man, stirring up trouble for the Bush administration. And Perle? He still hasn't sued Hersh, and almost once a month the big fella steps in a gooey brown pile, after which the press and legislators pummel him with conflict-of-interest charges. This week, Ari Berman of the lefty Nation joins the chorus, spotlighting yet another potential ethical transgression. According to Berman, Perle broke U.S. law by billing broadcasters from Britain, Canada, Japan, and South Korea for interviews while he chaired the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board and later, when he relinquished the chair but remained a member. Berman writes:
Fees ranged from under $100 to $900—minor sums to someone like Perle, but federal regulations covering officials in his capacity make no distinctions based on amount.
Nor is this the first assertion of dubious dealings by Perle. In the past few months, The New Yorker and the New York Times have both raised serious questions about whether Perle has used his government post for private gain.
Berman claims Perle violates "Regulations Code 5 CFR 2635.702," which prohibits the use of public office for private gain. (Perle's unpaid position on the Defense Policy Board qualifies as a public office, Berman writes.) Section 5 CFR 2635.807 also bans "special government employees," such as DPB members, from accepting money for speaking about topics in which the special government employee "has participated or is participating personally and substantially" for the U.S. government. Perle might not have done the bloody filigree on the Iraq invasion, but he was an early promoter/architect of the war and one of its most vociferous defenders. The broadcasters wanted Perle's views about the war, of course, and according to the ethics cops quoted by Berman, Perle improperly turned his government connection into a money-making enterprise by charging them for interviews.
Perle repels The Nation's charges with this triumphalist sneer and his own interpretation of the law:
The suggestion that being paid for work I do is somehow an abuse of my role as a member of a government advisory board is the sort of slander [emphasis added] I expect from The Nation which, since the collapse of regard for the vision of its founders, and the paucity of ideas to replace it, has been reduced to impugning the character of those whose ideas have prevailed over yours.
If The Nation's article is "slander," is it actionable? Will Perle sue? Will he file in New York, where the alleged slander was printed; in Washington, where Perle probably read the piece; in the New York Sun; or in Britain, where he promised to sue Hersh? If I were Perle, I'd go with Britain, and negotiate a discount from the barrister presumably handling his promised suit against Hersh.
The only downside of such a Perle v. The Nation suit would be the difficulty of charting two different versions of the "Richard Perle Libel Watch." But this column is up to the challenge! Note to Perle: I believe the statute of limitations on libel in Britain is the same as in the United States, so if you weren't just trash-talking Hersh, be advised that you have only 32 more weeks before the case turns into a pumpkin.
If Richard Perle is still serious about suing Hersh, I'll play process server and deliver the suit for a modest fee: Hersh's office is just around the corner from mine. Send details to firstname.lastname@example.org.