Everything you need to know about Rick Perry's indictment
As you may have heard by now, a grand jury on Friday indicted Governor Rick Perry on two felony accounts of abuse of power. The first charge, abuse of official capacity, is a first-degree felony that carries a potential punishment of five to 99 years in prison. The second charge, coercion of a public servant, is a third-degree felony that carries a potential punishment of two to ten years in prison.
So what did Gov. Perry do? He vetoed something.
But let’s start from the beginning. In Texas, the agency tasked with prosecuting government corruption is the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. They are most recently known for indicting U.S. Representative and House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who was later acquitted of all charges. The Public Integrity Unit is controlled by the Travis County District Attorney, who is elected by residents of Travis County, and funded by the state. This means that a unit with the responsibility of prosecuting government corruption statewide is elected (re: held responsible) solely by voters of Travis County. Taxation without representation, anyone? Oh, and Travis County is a solidly Democrat county.
Last summer, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, was arrested for drunk driving. Lehmberg had a blood alcohol level of 0.239, almost three times the legal limit, as well as an open bottle of vodka in her car, and was reported to have been swerving into the bike lanes and oncoming traffic. During her arrest and booking, Lehmberg acted belligerently: she appealed to her position of authority, yelled and insulted police officers, kicked at the door in her cell, and eventually had to be restrained and masked. (See the video here.)
Many public officials subsequently called for her resignation, including State Rep. Phil King (R – Weatherford), who said that Lehmberg had shown “utter contempt and disrespect for the law and for the office” which she holds. The situation then quickly became political, as her resignation would mean that Governor Perry, a Republican, would be able to choose her replacement.
After Lehmberg refused to resign, Gov. Perry announced his intentions to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit should Lehmberg, who he maintained was unfit for public service, remain in office as head of that unit. Stubbornly, Lehmberg forced Gov. Perry to make good on his intentions when she put her own career ahead of the funding security of a vital institution and declined to step down.
So in short, Governor Perry used his constitutional authority to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit because the head of that unit had no integrity with the public. And the Democrats are outraged.
The Travis County District Attorney’s office has a long history of politically-motivated prosecutions. Apart from the overturned 2005 indictment of Tom Delay, they had also targeted Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison after she took Lloyd Bentsen’s Senate seat from the Democrats in the 1993 special election. In Sen. Hutchison’s case, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earl, Lehmberg’s predecessor, accused the newly elected Senator of official misconduct during her previous role as Texas State Treasurer, and was able to convince a grand jury full of liberal Austinites to indict her. The indictment was immediately thrown out in court after Earl declined to present any evidence for the prosecution.
Similarly, the indictments against Perry are unlikely to go anywhere. David Botsford, Perry’s defense attorney, has called the indictments “political abuse of the court system.”
Sarah Rumpf, writing for Breitbart, explains:
“The grand jury’s indictment today, under the supervision of appointed special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, starts the process for a criminal case against the Governor but by no means guarantees that an actual criminal conviction will result. The grand jury process is entirely one-sided, controlled by the prosecutors, who present only their side. There’s a famous quote from Tom Wolfe’s book Bonfire of the Vanities, noting that prosecutors have so much power over this process that they could ‘indict a ham sandwich’ if they so chose.”
Democrats nationally are condemning the move. Liberal Harvard Law scholar Alan Dershowitz has called the move “totalitarian,” and says it is part of a “dangerous trend” of politically-motivated charges intending to use the courts to affect elections. Ben White of Politico said “it seems quite perverse to indict a governor for exercising his clearly delineated constitutional authority.” Even former Obama Senior Advisor David Axelrod called the move “sketchy.”
So why, then, would Texas Democrats be attempting such a seemingly-doomed, scorn magnet of a strategy? In an interview with the Star-Telegram, associate political science professor Allan Saxe of the University of Texas at Arlington explains that regardless of the outcome, the indictment will have a negative effect on Republicans. (Saxe refers to potential presidential ambitions for Perry.) “He may be completely innocent. He may be acquitted. In fact, he probably will be. But it won’t make a difference. The word indictment has a very chilling effect.”
In other words, it’s because Gov. Perry’s acquittal will be buried on page 12B somewhere in the future, whereas for the time being, Democrats are harvesting as many front page headlines as possible that contain that magic word – “Gov. Perry indicted!” “Rick Perry indicted for crimes!” “Rick Perry is bad and might go to jail for crimes and things because he’s INDICTED!” – in hopes that it will stick long enough in the minds of low-information voters to set the tone in the upcoming general election that Republican leadership has brought shame to Texas. This is less about a potential presidential run for Perry than it is about the midterm elections three months from now. Just look at the website for Battleground Texas, where the organization bent on electing Wendy Davis as Governor proudly displays not facts about the indictment, but headlines. Headlines. A parading collage of headlines propped up as part celebration of their bounty, part desperate attempt to cement the displayed messages into the minds of their followers. Typically Democrats are content to chant the fallacious, oversimplified, slogan-worthy talking points from which the media will craft their headlines. Now, it’s as if they’ve become a parody of themselves.
Meanwhile, the liberal organization Texans for Public Justice which filed the complaint against the Governor insists that because the Governor threatened to use his veto before actually doing so, serious laws were broken which constitute an abuse of power.
But announcing plans to veto legislation is simply part of the political discussion, and if Democrats disagree, they can read these headlines:
- Obama threatens to veto bill that would require administration to enforce laws
- Obama threatens to veto veterans benefits bill, demands raises for bureaucrats
- Obama threatens to veto GOP ‘doc fix’ bill
- Obama threatens to veto House border bill
- Obama threatens to veto CISPA
- Obama threatens to veto sanctions against Iran
- Obama threatens to veto defense bill
And I doubt any of those vetoes had the integrity of an institution in mind.