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