Bidding for Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle's controversial proposed novel came to a temporary halt at the end of its second day, as Perle left the country for a two-week trip to the Far East.
"Richard had a prescheduled business trip," said Robert B. Barnett of the Washington law firm Williams and Connolly, which is representing Perle in negotiations for the proposed novel. "The matter is on hold until he returns."
A spokesman for the Defense Department's Office of Public Affairs said Perle would be in Tokyo for two days at a privately sponsored conference, then planned to go to China for a vacation.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Perle's proposal for a novel tentatively titled "Memoranda" was said by publishing industry sources to describe a fictional battle between two assistant secretaries that resembles Perle's long-running disagreement with former assistant secretary of state Richard Burt. The proposal promises an insider's look at Washington, veiled only enough to earn the label of fiction. Perle has denied that he plans to base any characters in the novel on actual people. The latest bid was more than $300,000, according to a publishing source.
In a blistering letter addressed Thursday to President sk,1 sw,-1 ld,10 Reagan, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, wrote, "The American people . . . will not condone a public servant who is still in office openly inviting a bidding war for the publication of the 'inside' account of sensitive policy deliberations."
Perle said he would leave office before writing the book or accepting any money for it, but that he had no plans to leave office soon.
Perle is subject to regulations prohibiting federal officials from "any action . . . which might result in, or create the appearance of using public office for private gain" or from earning more than the equivalent of 15 percent of their salaries in outside income. He is said by two sources who participated in early discussions of the projected novel to have cleared his actions in advance with the Office of General Counsel in the Department of Defense. The General Counsel's Office declined to answer questions on the matter.
However, the question of book contracts for government employes was addressed in 1983 by the Office of Government Ethics, which was asked to consider the propriety of then-White House deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver's contract to write a diet book. David R. Scott, then acting director of the office, ruled that one important consideration in determining whether an official appeared to be using his office for private gain was "whether the advances against royalties are so large or of a nature to suggest that the official would not have received them except for his current position."
Scott, who is now general counsel to Rutgers University, declined to comment specifically on Perle's proposed book, but he said in an interview that a "central issue" was whether it would "be of interest to a publisher but for [Perle's] being assistant secretary of defense."