WASHINGTON—Richard Perle, one of the architects of the U.S. war on Iraq, resigned on Thursday from his post as chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board amid calls from Congress for a probe of his business dealings.
A sudden controversy over Perle's private lobbying efforts brought down the 61-year-old hawk, who was once styled as the "prince of darkness" for his pro-military, anti-arms treaty views.
Perle, a former assistant secretary of defense, sent a brief letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld saying he would quit as chairman because he could not "quickly or easily quell the criticism."
In a brief statement, Rumsfeld called Perle "a man of integrity and honor" and said he asked Perle to remain a member of the voluntary board, which advises the administration on major matters of defense policy.
Perle has become embroiled in criticism over his lobbying efforts on behalf of Global Crossing, a telecommunications company emerging from bankruptcy. Some branches of the Bush administration oppose the sale of the firm to Hutchison Whampoa, a Chinese conglomerate, as a possible threat to national security.
The FBI and other agencies say the Global Crossing sale to Hutchison Whampoa would give the Hong Kong-based company control of the world's most extensive fiber optic network and allow it to oversee existing contracts for secure Pentagon communications. Hutchison Whampoa is alleged to have many dealings with front companies for the People's Liberation Army in China.
A senior Democratic legislator, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, asked on Tuesday for the Pentagon to investigate Perle's business dealings. Since then, the request appeared to be picking up support from a growing bipartisan list of legislators.
"I have seen controversies like this before," Perle wrote in his letter to Rumsfeld. "And I know that this one will inevitably distract from the urgent challenge in which you are now engaged. I would not wish to cause even a moment's distraction from that challenge."
Perle's letter said he has agreed to forgo compensation if the sale of Global Crossing to the Chinese concern goes through.
According to bankruptcy papers, Perle was to receive a total payment of $725,000 for his advisory work, $650,000 of which would be contingent on the sale going through.
Perle said he would turn over fees already received "to the families of American forces killed or injured in Iraq."
As chair of the Defense Policy Board, Perle sat with more than a dozen other former government officials to offer advice on planning and "major matters of defense policy."
Among those on the board are former national security advisers Henry Kissinger and Richard Allen, former defense secretaries Harold Brown and James Schlesinger, former Vice President Dan Quayle, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and former CIA Director James Woolsey.
Perle is among a group of neo-conservatives inside and outside the Bush administration that pressed hard for military action to topple Saddam Hussein, envisioning that such action would re-order the Middle East. They call for aggressive use of pre-emptive military action to defend U.S. national interests, and to change regimes that may threaten the United States.
Some members of the group were highly critical of the Clinton administration for accepting campaign donations that allegedly came from China.
They also attacked the Clinton administration for not attempting to block the 1999 sale of container ports at both ends of the Panama Canal to Hutchison Whampoa, saying it would give China undue control of the waterway.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.