Well, now isn’t this a nice little can of worms.
In a complaint sent to prosecutors today, Texans for Public Justice alleges that Governor Rick Perry potentially committed several criminal offenses related to his recent threat to use his discretionary power to withhold money from the Travis County District Attorney’s office unless DA Rosemary Lehmberg resigns. TPJ believes the governor’s actions violate the Texas Penal Code, Title 8, Offenses Against Public Administration.
“Governor Perry has no legal authority to remove the Travis Country District Attorney from her job. Threatening to take an official action against her office unless she voluntarily resigns is likely illegal,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ Director.
“The governor overstepped his authority by sticking his nose in Travis County’s business. A legal process is currently underway. That process is alone should determine the fate of the District Attorney.
“Governor Perry’s official threats attempt to obtain two things that he can’t achieve through legal democratic means. First, to remove an elected Democrat and replace her with an appointed Republican DA. Second, to wipe out the state’s public corruption watchdog, which is currently investigating corruption in at least one of the governor’s signature corporate subsidy programs.
TPJ sent its complaint letter to both the Travis County District Attorney and to the Travis County Attorney’s office. TPJ believes the Governor’s actions violate Penal Code Section 36.03 Coercion of a Public Servant, Section 39.02 Abuse of Official Capacity, Section 39.03 Official Oppression and potentially the Bribery Section 39.02. The offenses range from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class 2 felony.
BOR voiced this argument a couple of days ago. Here’s the complaint, and here is my blog post about Perry’s veto threat. And late Friday afternoon, Perry followed through on his threat by zeroing out the PIU budget. The game is well and truly afoot.
The “signature corporate subsidy program” is presumably the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, the investigation into which Dems had previously argued would be shut down by Perry defunding the Public Integrity Unit. In response to a question related to this on Thursday, Perry suggested that Travis County could simply re-prioritize its own spending to keep the PIU and its investigations going. Perhaps that will be an argument for a grand jury; in any event, we’ll see how Travis County responds. The idea of Lehmberg’s office possibly pursuing an indictment against Perry for issuing that veto threat boggles the mind, but it sure as hell will be fun to watch. Any lawyers want to take a crack at this? Texas Politics, TRail Blazers, EoW, and BOR have more.