What’s the real story behind the Rick Perry ‘case?’

By Steven Brill
August 17, 2014

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By now there should have been a pile on of stories shedding light on just how ridiculous the indictment of Texas governor Rick Perry is. Perry was indicted last Friday by a grand jury in Travis County, Texas, which includes the state capital of Austin. His alleged crime: “abuse of power” – for threatening to veto a provision in a pending state law that would fund a corruption unit in the office of the Travis Country prosecutor unless the prosecutor herself resigned.

Let’s stipulate that Perry didn’t like the idea of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, investigating public corruption in Austin, which, of course, meant she could focus on the governor’s office.

Let’s also stipulate that when Lehmberg was arrested in a highly-publicized drunk driving case (police videos showed her stumbling around and belligerently reminding the cops who she was), Perry saw it as an opportunity. He was able to say that unless Lehmberg resigned he was going to veto the bill, which he ultimately did, because he didn’t want to fund “an office…at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”

So what? As in most states, the Texas constitution gives the governor broad veto power.

Lehmberg, did not resign, but her office did not handle the case. After a liberal public watchdog group called Texans for Public Justice lodged the abuse of power complaint against Perry, lawyer Michael McCrum was appointed by a judge as a special prosecutor to investigate the case.

McCrum is well regarded in Texas, but this two page, two-count indictment is such a joke that it is hard to believe serious reporters for serious news organizations read it before writing their on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand stories about the case.

Count One says that Perry “knowingly misused government property” – the funds slated for the corruption unit – “with intent to harm another, to wit, Rosemary Lehmberg.” That’s it.

Count Two charges that “by means of coercion, to wit, threatening to veto legislation that had been approved and authorized by the Legislature of the State of Texas to provide funding for the continued operation of the Public Integrity Unit…unless…Rosemary Lehmberg resigned from her official position…James Richard ‘Rick’ Perry “intentionally or knowingly influenced or attempted to influence Rosemary Lehmberg…in the specific performance of her official duty….”

For starters, we need to see some stories where reporters ask the special prosecutor and those who support this indictment about some analogies.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz tried to shut down the entire federal government, not just some unit of a prosecutor’s office, because Barack Obama would not agree to repeal Obamacare. Isn’t that “misusing government property, to wit, the entire federal treasury” to harm Obama? Does McCrum think a federal grand jury ought to indict Cruz – or, for that matter, that a Texas prosecutor could because he made some of those threats while in Texas?

And how many times has Obama or any Democratic governor threatened to “harm” someone with a veto? Is that abuse of power, or just politics?

When liberal billionaire Tom Steyer promises to support candidates who oppose the Keystone pipeline is that bribery?  If candidates accept his money, get into office and then try to kill the pipeline, are they “misuing” their office and “harming” the various businesses that will profit from the pipeline?

A second category of stories should try to get behind the scenes of how the indictment happened. What was the special prosecutor’s strategy? What facts were decisive for him? What possible biases might he have had? And – this is hard but doable – what were the backgrounds of the grand jurors, and how did the prosecutor corral them into returning this indictment?

The Perry case is a big deal. If a sitting governor can be indicted, booked, and made to stand trial for something like this, the bitter bipartisan fights of the last few years may end up seeming like a casual tennis match.

With that in mind, we also need to see some stories from legal analysts about whether there is any way Perry can short circuit this process with an immediate appeal to a state or federal court to have the indictment dismissed as a matter of law. Does he really have to stand trial for this?

PHOTO: Texas Governor Rick Perry attends the second Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Awards Gala in New York, May 18, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

20 comments

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Yes, Ted Cruz did commit an abuse of power. Yes, the Republicans have been continuously abusing their powers by way of obstructing legislation. Is that an indictable offense? I guess I’ll leave that up to the Grand Jury to decide, and perhaps so should you.

Posted by adl1652 | Report as abusive

Opinion masquerading as news again.

Posted by ChangeBox | Report as abusive

So threatening a public servant and then defunding a unit of Texas government that investigates possible wrong doing may not be reprehensible, but it is illegal. What is reprehensible and should be illegal is Perry’s handling of the case of death row inmate, TODD WILLINGHAM.

Posted by AustinMom | Report as abusive

Why do you show no interest in whatever legal precedents exist?

The special prosecutor who framed the case to the grand jury that indicted Perry, i.e. McCrum, is not only “well regarded” in Texas, he was backed in 2010 by both Texas Republican US Senators at the time, Hutchinson and Cornyn, for consideration to be the US Attorney in San Antonio.

Given this level of Republican support for McCrum, it is a bit hard to buy your line that he may be engaged in something that would make the “bitter partisan fights of the past few years” look like a tennis match. I thought a partisan fight had to be between partisans.

The only evidence you’ve got that McCrum might be a Democratic Party partisan engaged in a bitter fight against Republican Party Governor Perry is that McCrum was the special prosecutor involved in this grand jury indictment.

You’re the one who seems to be taking a partisan position.

Posted by joebftsplk | Report as abusive

Underneath the specious analogies and baffling Keystone digressions, Mr.Brill seems to be making the case that Perry should get a pass because political blackmail and bullying are so common. He’s right that this happens all the time in the (mainly Republican) states where the executive, legislative, and judicial bodies are controlled by a single party. Democratic, Independent, and Bipartisan entities are denied funding and cooperation or taken over through blocked or corrupt appointments and gerrymandering. Will this indictment set a precedent for trying sitting governors for these activities? Let’s hope so!

As young Hispanics become politically engaged and white seniors die, the demographic destiny of Texas (and America) is clear. The Republicans will fight the future tooth and nail, with every anti-democratic weapon they can find. Gerrymandering, Voter Suppression, judicial meddling, and co-opting non-partisan entities is just the beginning.

As an Austinite, I’m sick of seeing Austin, Travis County, and the University of Texas being bullied by Perry and his cronies in the State Capital. They come from deep-red rural heckholes and want to please their constituents by dismantling Texas’ education, justice, women’s health, and social welfare while enjoying Austin’s excellent schools, hospitals, restaurants, and cultural scene.

Posted by SredniV | Report as abusive

Underneath the specious analogies and baffling Keystone digressions, Mr.Brill seems to be making the case that Perry should get a pass because political blackmail and bullying are so common. He’s right that this happens all the time in the (mainly Republican) states where the executive, legislative, and judicial bodies are controlled by a single party. Democratic, Independent, and Bipartisan entities are denied funding and cooperation or taken over through blocked or corrupt appointments and gerrymandering. Will this indictment set a precedent for trying sitting governors for these activities? Let’s hope so!

As young Hispanics become politically engaged and white seniors die, the demographic destiny of Texas (and America) is clear. The Republicans will fight the future tooth and nail, with every anti-democratic weapon they can find. Gerrymandering, Voter Suppression, judicial meddling, and co-opting non-partisan entities is just the beginning.

As an Austinite, I’m sick of seeing Austin, Travis County, and the University of Texas being bullied by Perry and his cronies in the State Capital. They come from deep-red rural heckholes and want to please their constituents by dismantling Texas’ education, justice, women’s health, and social welfare while enjoying Austin’s excellent schools, hospitals, restaurants, and cultural scene.

Posted by SredniV | Report as abusive

This reads as a long list of GOP talking points. He doesn’t like the indictment? No direct challenge to laws being applied, just a rant on old topics in an attempt to justify this one. In other words, not of any value.

Posted by bryanric | Report as abusive

This reads as a long list of GOP talking points. He doesn’t like the indictment? No direct challenge to laws being applied, just a rant on old topics in an attempt to justify this one. In other words, not of any value.

Posted by bryanric | Report as abusive

While we are throwing around stipulations, let’s stipulate that District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg has NOT lost the public confidence, and that Gov Perry has concerns that he’d look so bad under a public corruption audit a veto was a matter of survival. Now where do we stand?

A Grand Jury considered the evidence and agreed to indict. That’s called due process. Suggesting that that jury is corrupt is a bit of a reach. Same for the court jury, should it convict the Gov., who after all is not renown for his brains.

Posted by Bookfan | Report as abusive

Politics aside, the fact remains that the at “the time of Mr. Perry’s veto last year, prosecutors in the unit had been investigating a state agency called the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The agency — one of Mr. Perry’s signature initiatives — came under scrutiny by state lawmakers after accusations of mismanagement and corruption; a former official there was indicted last year for his handling of an $11 million grant.”
This, in itself, can be deemed as an effort “to thwart the investigation into the cancer-research agency” — and it confirms that “he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason.”
As such, the indictment is not at all “sketchy.”

Posted by kafantaris | Report as abusive

The part about the indictment that is not crazy is that, if Perry had the authority to fire a district attorney, it would have been a lot easier for her to do that than to try to make Lehmberg resign by strong-arming her.

Since Perry was trying to accomplish something he did not have the authority to do directly, there is probably a reasonable argument that he was exceeding his authority and may have been acting arbitrarily and capriciously.

That does not mean the he committed a felony, and it is unlikely that a governor’s exercise of his veto power could possibly be a felony, unless it was exercised unconstitutionally (and possibly not even then). Remember the old adage that a decent district attorney should be able to obtain an indictment against a ham sandwich.

One thing is sure, even if there is uncertainty about the fate of these charges. Perry is not going to be the GOP presidential candidate in 2016, even if this whole thing is cleared up by then. The takeaway for other politicians with presidential ambitions should be to be careful about playing hardball with officials who have to power to play return hardball by indicting you on charges of official corruption.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

In the past we never saw cases such as – holding corrupt banks accountable, abuse of power and actions driven by hatred-ness toward democrats and such.

In the current times, we’ve started seeing both the above types of cases for the first time, with the use of data records in the electronic form and the related that have made this form of indisputable accounting prevail over traditional form of justice that relied on debate-skill driven arguments, the latter form of which lacking much substance in the form of data-driven accounting.

TX is known notorious for these forms of abuse given its history of electoral district boundary redraw and other that are representative of shear abuse of power.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

What the writer of this article fails to realize is that the power to veto budget line items should be used for the betterment of the state of Texas, not for the personal or political vendettas of the Governor.

Also, previously in Texas history, a sitting Governor has been impeached for doing *exactly* what Gov. Perry did, which was withholding authorized funding because of a personal dislike of the individual holding the office *and* saying that funding would remain unavailable until the individual left.

So yes, Gov. Perry does in fact have to stand trial for this, as a message to future governors that they cannot willy-nilly use the budget line item veto to blackmail office holders into performing *any* particular course of action.

Posted by Burns0011 | Report as abusive

The courts seem to be the current front in the endless political wars. Between Boehner suing Obama and the State of Texas indicting Perry it makes the era of the special prosecutor (e.g., Lawrence E. Walsh,Kenneth Starr, etc.) seem quaint.

Posted by WanderingCPA | Report as abusive

Who the heck is this Steven Brill? Pretty clear to anyone with knowledge of facts that this guy is biased having glossed over or completely ignored significant truths. Guess I expected more of Reuters as an unbiased investigative source than a rehash of some Faux News talking points nonsense. So much for that…

Posted by 100Watts | Report as abusive

Reuters censor team – where do the posted comments on this article go, as none of posted seems to appear?

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

I like to know if Mike Segar has ties to the governor of Texas aka tricky Ricky that he is not disclosing.

Posted by Flyingdutchman2 | Report as abusive

Yep…Pretty lame and I can’t stand Perry and I still say it’s just lame as hell…

Posted by Dogmabites | Report as abusive

Trying to explain Texas is a fool’s errand.

Posted by VinnieTheSnake | Report as abusive

There is another “category of stories” behind the scene.

Ahead of State Elections for Governor and States Attorney General Offices, are the favorites or front runners involved in any of the 400 active cases of ethical breaches, tax and insurance fraud that needs continued funding. Should they be?

Is Governor Perry, by cutting off funding attempting to influence or delay such investigations until after the elections?

For example, current States Attorney General Gregory Wayne Abbott (front runner and Republican for Governors Office) resides over an issue handed down by Governor Bush. Caught in a quagmire between preexisting law and abuses that affected what the department calls “Dead Beat Dads”. Incoming Attorney General Abbott expanded Family Laws to include a form of Entrapment.

These changes in Texas Family Law entraps divorced men forcing them to pay Child Support on children not fathered by a man divorcing a woman who previously reared children with a different man.

A recent suit and claims approaching $20M filed by Anthony de Kerf (a California resident) documents nearly fifteen years of stonewalling and abuses that include both the Governor and Attorney Generals Offices.

These documents which details a history of fraud, forgery and departmental neglect were made available to Texas media and members of the Fox News Network earlier in 2014. In response to continuing frivolous suits filed by members of the Dallas Attorney Generals Office, these documents were entered into public record in July 2014.

Perhaps Governor Perry was motivated by several other agenda’s including protecting the entire Attorney Generals Office and Courts that violate due process and civil rights as a matter of policy.

Posted by Greek369 | Report as abusive