AG opinion sought for Perry’s use of taxpayer funds for defense


Corndogs make bad news go down easier

These corndogs don’t come cheap ya know

A Democratic House leader has asked for a legal opinion on how and if Gov. Rick Perry can bill taxpayers for his $450-an-hour criminal lawyer defending him in a grand jury probe.

Perry is under a grand jury investigation on potential bribery and coercion charges after trying to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign last year after she pled guilty to drunk driving.

He hired Austin criminal attorney David Botsford in a contract that runs through October.

Perry has acknowledged that he threatened to veto $7.5 million in state funding for the Public Integrity Unit, administered by Lehmberg’s office, if she did not step down. She did not resign and he vetoed the money.

If Lehmberg, a Democrat, had quit, Perry would have named her replacement. The Public Integrity Unit at the time was investigating the operation of one of Perry’s signature achievements — the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

One of CPRIT’s top officers was indicted in December for steering an $11 million award to a company without subjecting it to the standard review process.

Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, requested that Attorney General Greg Abbott study the issue to see if there are limits on a governor hiring outside counsel at taxpayers expense.

In a 4-page letter, the House Land and Resource Management Committee chairman asks if the governor has taken criminal actions beyond the scope of his official capacity, should the state be obligated to pay for his defense.

It also asks if the governor can be forced to accept a state lawyer on staff at the Attorney General’s Office as opposed to paying for outside counsel.

The Lone Star Project has a copy of the letter, with more here. My original assumption was that this was similar to Perry paying for his travel security with public funds, but perhaps I thought too soon. I’ll be very interested to see how Abbott opines on this. The Trib and BOR have more.

Meanwhile, more details about Perry’s efforts to oust Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg keep dribbling out.

Officials and sources said Perry, through intermediaries, offered several options to Lehmberg to entice her resignation, culminating in promises to restore funding to the unit, another position in the District Attorney’s office, and the selection of her top lieutenant to serve as the new district attorney.

The offer was “clear,” said a public official who was involved the talks, but who asked not to be identified.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daughtery, a Republican, said he reached out to Perry’s office following the veto to see if there was some way to restore state funding for the anti-corruption Public Integrity Unit. He said that negotiations eventually included allowing Democrats, who dominate Travis County politics, to pick Lehmberg’s replacement.

“There was this massive amount of fear that if Rosemary steps down, it’s the governor who gets to appoint someone,” Daughtery said. A Lehmberg aide was floated as a potential replacement to make it palatable to Democrats.

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe confirmed that Perry’s office had said that Lehmberg would be replaced with another Democrat currently working in the district attorney’s office.

“Then the offer was made, I was told, that the governor would appoint a Democrat, and preferably one already working in the DA’s office,” he said.

Biscoe added that he never directly communicated with Perry or his staff during the talks.

In late July, the offer was sweetened again, the two sources said, when the Governor’s office communicated that Lehmberg would be allowed to remain at the district attorney’s office in another capacity if she resigned her elected position.

I’m amazed by all this, and I must say a little puzzled. The presumed reasons why Perry would want to force Lehmberg out the door are to derail the CPRIT investigation, and generally cripple the Public Integrity Unit. Both of which could be accomplished by installing a Republican as DA, which Perry would have gotten to do if Lehmberg had stepped down. I get that Perry might need and be willing to sweeten the pot to achieve his (again, presumed) goals, but if all this is true you have to wonder what he thought he was accomplishing. I just don’t understand the motivation. If it was just about believing that Lehmberg was unfit to serve, then why would Perry offer to let her stay at another job in the office? Makes no sense to me. Jason Stanford has more.

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