Governor faces two felony charges alleging abuse of office
By Richard Whittaker,
6:54PM, Fri. Aug. 15, 2014
In teeing up his presumed run for president in 2016, we've seen many sides of Gov. Rick Perry: eating pork chops in Iowa, bookish in glasses, wearing flak jackets on the border. Now, a new photo op: a mug shot. This afternoon, he was indicted on two charges relating to his veto of Travis County District Attorney's office funding.
The charges relate to Perry's decision to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit, the office within the Travis County D.A.'s office charged with investigating malfeasance by elected officials. The short version is that he demanded that D.A. Rosemary Lehmberg resign after she was arrested for a DUI: She refused, Perry cut the office's budget, lawyers were laid off, and investigations ground to a halt.
Last summer, attorney Michael McCrum was appointed as special prosecutor to investigate ethics complaints filed against the governor. Now a Travis County grand jury has handed down two indictments, writing that "on or about June 14, 2013, [Perry] intentionally or knowingly misused government property" contrary to his oath of office. The first charge, abuse of official capacity, is a first degree felony that carries a sentence of 5-99 years. The second, coercion of a public official, is a third degree felony and carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Clearly, this does not bode well for Perry's national aspirations, it being hard to campaign while you face court dates. McCrum has said that he will meet with Perry's attorneys on Monday to set an arraignment date.
Perry's legal team has immediately fired back. In a statement, General Counsel Mary Anne Wiley said her office "will continue to aggressively defend the governor's lawful and constitutional action," and that "the veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution." Perry has been charging his legal costs during this initial phase to the public coffers, for an estimated bill to date of $40,000.
The Twitterverse is already ablaze with Republicans, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, bemoaning the criminalization of politics by "Liberal Travis County." However, McCrum, a San Antonio-based specialist in white collar crime, was actually appointed by a San Antonio judge, and was once backed by Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn to become U.S. Attorney for the Western District.
Unsurprisingly, state Democrats have jumped all over the announcement. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa called for Perry's immediate resignation, stating that he "has brought dishonor to his office, his family, and the state of Texas. Texans deserve to have leaders that stand up for what is right and work to help families across Texas." (Republicans may feel a pinch of indignation, considering how angry Democrats were that Perry was demanding Lehmberg's exit. On the other hand, Hinojosa never suggested cutting the governor's salary if he didn't quit.)
Progress Texas Executive Director Ed Espinoza called Perry's track record "shameful," adding that it "reflects a disturbing pattern of Republican misconduct." That may become an important talking point, since Democrat Wendy Davis's gubernatorial campaign has increasingly centered on Republican crony politics. Espinoza pondered, "At any point, has Attorney General Greg Abbott – the state's watchdog – advised or condoned these actions?"
Similarly, Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project said the charges "[confirm] the corrupt culture of GOP leadership in Texas." Moreover, he extended the attack to include GOP attorney general hopeful Ken Paxton, adding that "Perry’s abuse of power and the protection of insiders over hard working Texas is, unfortunately, business as usual in the Perry/Abbott/Paxton political world."