Tuesday, August 19, 2014

TX Gov Rick Perry Indicted; case is legally and factually unsupportable--a politcal move

I am not a fan of Texas governor Rick Perry.  It is hard to imagine any scenario where I would vote for him for President.  However, the indictment handed down against him by a grand jury in one of Texas' few liberal-dominated cities, Austin, is a travesty, and symptomatic of a serious lack of integrity.
The theory behind the indictment is as follows:

"A Travis County grand jury on Friday charged Perry with two felony counts, abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, after he vetoed funding for a county office that investigates public corruption

"The case stems from Perry's erasing [line-item vetoing] $7.5 million in state funding last year for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit. He did so after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, [who heads the unit] rejected his calls to resign after her drunken driving conviction. . ..

The dispute between Perry and Lehmberg is at the center of the grand jury investigation. In April 2013, Lehmberg was arrested on a charge of drunken driving and the videotape of her belligerent conduct while being booked into the jail was made public.
Tests showed her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit. A blood-alcohol content that is twice the legal limit — 0.15 or above — is a Class A misdemeanor, subject to a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Perry made it clear in public statements and through emissaries that he didn’t believe the state should fund an office headed by someone who had lost the public’s trust.
At the time, the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes public corruption and malfeasance, was examining one of Perry’s signature projects — the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
If she had resigned, Perry would have appointed her replacement.
By the time of the veto, Lehmberg had pleaded guilty to DWI, fulfilled her 45-day sentence and completed a treatment program. She refused to quit but said she would retire after she completed her term.
Perry’s office continued to negotiate with her after the veto, pledging to restore money to the unit if she stepped down.
The allegations of criminal wrongdoing were first filed by Craig McDonald, director of the nonprofit campaign watchdog group Texans for Public Justice.
McDonald has maintained that using veto threats to try to make another elected official leave was gross abuse of office.
“The grand jury decided that Perry’s bullying crossed the line into lawbreaking,” he said Friday. “Any governor under felony indictment ought to consider stepping aside.”

The governor has authority under the Texas Constitution to use such a veto.  His motives do not appear to be laudable. Arguably he was attempting to squelch an investigation of possible corruption.  On the other hand, shouldn't Lehmberg have resigned?  I think so. 
Many would say that this appears to be  Texas hard-ball politics as usual.  However, ethically questionable moves and hardball politics are not crimes when the "perp" has authority under the state constitution to do what he did.   If they were, most politicians would be in jail. Perry did everything in the open.  Nothing was hidden. No money changed hands. 
 But if we were looking at motives, what were the grand jury's and prosecutor's motives?  As stated by one supporter of the indictment, the governor should step aside. Texas is in the midst of a hardball campaign for governor.  Perry is not running again, but this indictment helps smear the Texas Republican Party.  This indictment is a serious problem if Perry decides to run for President again.  I do not approve of Perry's tactics, but I also do not approve of this sham prosecution.

Did the corruption investigation end? No,  Travis county's Democratic-dominated came up with $ 1.8 million to continue the investigation.

Two wrongs (Perry's and the grand jury's) do not make a right.  The legal basis for this indictment is untenable.  The Dallas  Morning News naively opined that the indictment must be good because a group of citizens approved it.  People familiar with how the system really works know that prosecutors control the grand jury and can get just about anything they want out of the grand jury they essentially control.  Too many grand jurors just want to get home ASAP and rubber-stamp whatever the prosecutor wants. 

The Travis County corruption unit has gone after two prominent Republicans before.  Former  Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson was acquitted. Former Republican former Congressman Tom DeLay was indicted and convicted but his case is still on appeal. Don't get me wrong, we need more indictments of politicians.  Republican domination at all levels of state government in Texas  is not a healthy situation. Corruption is rampant as it is in most states.  However, we need winnable prosecutions, not political grandstanding.   Political polarization is corrupting American politics and legal proceedings  to ever greater depths.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure the governor's intention was honorable. But using his veto power to coerce Travis county's DA to resign, whatever this official's past sin, is highly questionable. If the governor views Travis county's public integrity unit as an unnecessary expenditure of state resources, then let this be his reason for a veto.