Perry Calls Indictments 'Farce'

At least Bobby Jindal has his back

Gov. Rick Perry
Gov. Rick Perry
Photo by Jana Birchum

Most people, when they are under two felony indictments, might avoid press conferences. Not Gov. Rick Perry, who today responded to charges that he abused his office with trademark bravado.

The three-term governor of Texas and prospective 2016 presidential candidate was indicted yesterday by a Travis County grand jury on two felony charges – abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official – relating to how he cut state funding to the Public Integrity Unit in 2013, in an attempt to dislodge District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.

The charges allege the political equivalent of extortion. Lehmberg was arrested for being dangerously drunk, Perry told her to quit, she refused; Perry vetoed the funding for the PIU, the state entity based in Lehmberg's office and responsible for investigating criminal malfeasance among elected officials. For example, the office is currently investigating UT Regent Wallace Hall for his abuse of his office against UT President Bill Powers. It is also investigating a complaint against Republican Attorney General nominee Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney that he worked as an unregistered investment adviser. Then there is the ongoing investigation into the state's Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, whose former commercialization officer Jerald "Jerry" Cobbs has already been indicted. It has also previously been responsible for bringing corruption charges against former Democratic state rep Kino Flores, and none other than disgraced ex-congressman Tom DeLay.

In a brief statement today, Perry showed a dose of chutzpah that may make both the grand jury and Special Investigator Michael McCrum gasp, saying that "this indictment amounts to nothing more than an abuse of power and I cannot, and will not, allow that to happen." He added, "I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto, and will continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor.”

The Perry defense is going to be that this is all about Lehmberg – that she lost the public confidence after her DWI arrest and subsequent sentencing to 45 days in jail, and that she had to go. Moreover, that using his budget veto was a Constitutional expression of his powers as governor.

Already, his good friend, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has leapt to his defense, issuing a statement via, reposting the infamous Lehmberg arrest video, and stating that "The lawsuit against Gov. Perry is a blatant misuse of the judicial system by liberal activists, and the ensuing circus is simply a political witch-hunt."

Which might make sense, if what Perry did impacted Lehmberg, an elected official. Instead, it just affected the Public Integrity Unit. Moreover, as Progress Texas executive director Ed Espinoza noted, when two other DAs were convicted of drunk driving – Swisher County DA Terry McEachern in 2003 and Kaufman County DA Rick Harrison in 2009 – Perry remained silent. Espinoza said, "Rick Perry has been looking the other way on Republican drunk driving charges for years – let’s call this what it is, a cover up of an investigation into the Cancer Research Fund."

The boildown seems a lot darker than Jindal's Democratic witch hunt theory. Well before Lehmberg's arrest, the GOP has repeatedly tried to either shut the PIU down, or have it transferred into the Attorney General's office. However, the entire purpose of having the office based in the DA's office of the county containing the state capitol is exactly so it would retain some independence. With 425 cases pending, the Travis County Commissioners stepped in last August and attempted to bridge the funding gap, but it was an undoubted blow to the agency.

Of course, many Democrats were furious at Lehmberg when she was arrested, and would have been glad to see the back of her then. However, they preferred keeping her over the alternative: That Perry would appoint her successor. (Speculation at the time had one of his chief lieutenants, former state representative and Texas Facilities Commission chief Terry Keel, lined up to take over.) With so many cases pending, including several Perry affiliates, the last thing anyone seeking fair investigations – be they Republican, Democrat, or any other political hue – wanted was the governor's thumb on the scales.

As for the argument that this is a "Liberal Travis County" witch hunt, it's important to remember that McCrum is a well-respected Republican lawyer based out of San Antonio, and the judge who selected him, Robert C. Richardson, just ran for Texas Criminal Court of Appeals Place 3 as (guess what?) a Republican.

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Rick Perry, Indictment, Rosemary Lehmberg, Travis County District Attorney, Public Integrity Unit, Michael McCrum, Robert C. Richardson

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