Policy entrepreneur/venture capitalist/former Defense Policy Board Chairman/Conrad Black factotum/talking head Richard N. Perle has finally released the 85 pages of interview transcripts and statements he promised to post on the Web three months ago to prove his claim that Seymour M. Hersh maligned him in a March 17, 2003, New Yorker investigative feature, "Lunch With the Chairman."
Perle originally threatened to sue Hersh for libel (March 2003) but downsized his outrage to a demand for a correction (March 2004) as the statute of limitations ran out and his attorneys advised against a suit. In declining to sue, Perle told the New York Sun that the documents would "make it absolutely clear that [Hersh's] reporting is false. … With the benefit of that information I would expect The New Yorker to make a correction."
Perle released the allegedly damning documents to the Chicago Tribune, which posted them today (June 25, 2004) in PDF form to accompany David Jackson's article about the controversy (and a Sy Hersh profile). Perle prepared the documents for the Department of Defense's inspector general, who commenced an investigation after members of Congress read The New Yorker piece and other press accounts and wanted to know if Perle had violated federal conflict-of-interest provisions by improperly mixing his government duties (head of the Defense Policy Board) with his business interests (homeland security and defense contracts). The IG ultimately ruled that federal conflict-of-interest rules didn't apply to Perle because the provisions don't kick in unless an employee works 60 days in a year, and Perle only worked eight. In this sense, the IG exonerated Perle.
Perle attorney Samuel Abady tells the Tribune's Jackson that the "materials make it absolutely clear that [Hersh's] reporting is false," but Jackson finds otherwise. "A Tribune examination found the materials do not support such a sweeping conclusion," he writes.
One of Perle's three witnesses—the notorious Saudi arms dealer and financier Adnan Khashoggi—contradicted Perle on important points, and said in an [sic] Tribune interview that as far as he knew, Hersh's report was accurate. "There are facts we cannot run away from," Khashoggi said.
Jackson, however, tilts in Perle's direction on one issue:
Reading the statements in the light most favorable to Perle, Hersh erroneously reported that Perle, at a single January 2003 luncheon meeting, pitched Trireme to a potential investor while simultaneously presenting himself as a liaison to the Bush administration.
But during two meetings with business investors in December 2002 and January 2003—both including Khashoggi—Perle appeared once as a powerful U.S. military adviser and the other time as an international dealmaker born aloft on the winds of war.
Perle has never precisely described how the Hersh article libeled him. At the time of its publication, the New York Sun asked what part of the story was incorrect, and Perle responded, "It's all lies, from beginning to end." If Hersh were the litigious sort, he could probably file a slander suit against Perle for making that statement—and he wouldn't have to go to England to get a court to take it.
But Hersh's piece, read from the benefit of a 15 months removal from it, judiciously avoids libeling Perle. After writing extensively on Perle's dual roles as DPB chair and businessman, Hersh asks Perle if there are any conflicts of interest between his two roles or if they constituted an appearance of a conflict. Hersh never makes the charge. Since when is raising a relevant question of a government employee an action for libel?
And so ends our 15-month saga: A libel allegation has been reduced to a request for a correction, which is a little like a demolition artist placing an order for nitroglycerin but settling for nitrous oxide.