WASHINGTON — Television evangelist Pat Robertson filed twin $35-million libel suits Tuesday against former Rep. Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey (R-Calif.) and Rep. Andrew Jacobs Jr. (D-Ind.), accusing them of spreading false claims that Robertson used his senator-father's influence to avoid combat duty in Korea.
Robertson, who has said he may seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, charged that McCloskey and Jacobs "made wanton and reckless statements denigrating my role with the U.S. Marine Corps while serving in the Korean conflict."
In the suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, Robertson seeks a retraction of the claims, which he called "an attack by liberals to discredit me because of my strong support of national defense and our armed forces."
Stands by Statement
From his office in Palo Alto, Calif., McCloskey said he "absolutely" is standing by his statements about Robertson and that "there is no place better than a court to determine the truth."
At issue is an Aug. 4, 1986, letter from McCloskey to Jacobs in which McCloskey said Robertson told him and others "that his father had gotten him out of combat duty." Jacobs, who also has denied any wrongdoing, showed the letter to reporters when Robertson became serious about seeking the GOP nomination.
McCloskey was on the same ship that carried Robertson to Japan in February, 1951, en route to Korean service. In the letter, he recounted how Robertson had called his father, Sen. A. Willis Robertson (D-Va.), in the United States to seek to have his orders changed.
"This statement is false and defamatory," Robertson's suit said.
Wants Record Clear
"It is important that I demonstrate the falsehoods of these stories," Robertson said. "Otherwise, if I am elected President, how could I, as commander in chief, ever order a young American into combat if the record is not absolutely clear that I never shirked military duty."
Robertson said he has collected "overwhelming evidence, including official records, which contradict and rebut McCloskey's irresponsible allegations."
But McCloskey said: "Since this controversy has happened, five different lieutenants on that ship have come forward to corroborate it." Jacobs noted that he "of course . . . was not a witness to the events involved. Pete McCloskey wrote them to me. I turned them over to reporters." But Jacobs said, "I believe Pete McCloskey."