Saying he wanted to avoid distracting the Bush administration from the war in Iraq, Richard Perle resigned as chairman of a Pentagon advisory board Thursday following criticism of his role in advising a bankrupt telecommunications company seeking government approval to sell to foreign buyers.
Perle said that he was stepping down voluntarily as chairman of the Defense Policy Board and that he had not been pressured by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to do so. He said he would remain on the board but gave up the top job to spare the Bush administration from sharing criticism that he violated a government ethics prohibition against public officials using their offices for private gain.
In a letter to Rumsfeld, Perle said he could not quickly quell public concerns "based on errors of fact," and in an interview, said he did not want to present the Pentagon with a distraction at a critical time for national security.
"It's actually quite a bitter irony because I was brought in to help the company figure out how to meet the government's requirements, not to try to help change the government's requirements," Perle, 61, said in an interview. "That was never my role ....I never at any time tried to persuade anyone in government to accept an arrangement that they were proposing."
Global Crossing Inc., which runs a fiber-optic network, needs the approval of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to sell a 61.5% stake to Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. and Singapore Technologies Telemedia. The panel has the authority to block mergers if it deems them harmful to American interests. Rumsfeld is among the 11 Cabinet members and high-ranking administration officials serving on that committee.
The Defense Policy Board was created to provide the Pentagon with independent advice on long-term strategic issues. Among its 30 members are several current and former national security officials, including former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, former Vice President Dan Quayle and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.
Rumsfeld, who appointed Perle to the unpaid role as chairman of the board in 2001, accepted Perle's resignation Thursday but said he asked Perle to remain as a member. The secretary praised Perle as an "excellent chairman" with a "deep understanding of our national security process."
"I should add that I have known Richard Perle for many years and know him to be a man of integrity and honor," Rumsfeld said in a statement.
Perle said he would not accept the $600,000 bonus if the Global Crossing deal is approved and would donate the $125,000 fee for his services "to the families of American forces killed or injured in Iraq."
"I hope that it will relieve some of the avalanche of reporting that was a distraction for the secretary and certainly a distraction for me," Perle said.
Perle, who is also a national security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is a former assistant secretary of Defense for international security policy. He is best known for his pithy quotations, conservative views and his longtime insistence on the disarmament of Iraq.