Former Gov. Rick Perry tried to force out a local district attorney because he wanted to stymie the work of a unit she oversees that investigates public corruption involving state officials, a special prosecutor alleged Friday.
The contention is at odds with Perry’s long-held assertion that he vetoed the funding for the Public Integrity Unit because Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg had lost the public’s confidence after a messy drunken-driving arrest.
Perry lawyer Anthony Buzbee of Houston called the contention “total baloney. There is no evidence of that and won’t ever be.”
“The grand jury’s indictment charges, and the state will prove, that the defendant broke the law in two different ways,” said the filing by McCrum and his assistant, David M. Gonzalez of Austin.
The prosecution said Perry used a lawful power – his veto – “in an unlawful manner and for unlawful purposes,” constituting abuse of office. It said he also conveyed “an illegal threat in a similarly unlawful manner and for unlawful purposes,” constituting coercion of a public servant.
“The state will prove that defendant Perry did not approve of historical and current management decisions regarding the operation of the Public Integrity Unit and therefore wanted to coerce Ms. Lehmberg into resigning her elected position and/or stymie or obstruct the continued operation of the Public Integrity Unit under Ms. Lehmberg’s management,” said the prosecution.
McCrum in the filing said the prosecution will present evidence that Perry “is criminally responsible for the communication to Rosemary Lehmberg that unless she resigned from her official position as elected Travis County district attorney” that Perry would veto the funding.
[Judge Bert] Richardson in his previous ruling had instructed McCrum to add some wording that was missing from the original indictment, to address an exception in the coercion law for someone who is a member of a governing body taking an official action.
McCrum in his revised filing said Lehmberg and Perry were members of different branches of government, and that Perry’s attempt to influence her wasn’t an official one taken as a member of a governing body.
With regard to the abuse-of-office count, McCrum said that Perry “misused government property that was subject to his custody and possession” by using “the lawful power of gubernatorial veto for an unlawful purpose” – eliminating the unit’s funding when Lehmberg refused to resign.
“The prosecutor added more words but failed to correct the glaring deficiencies in the indictment,” said Buzbee. He said that McCrum did not negate the exception in the coercion law and failed to show Perry had custody of the funds in the abuse-of-office count.
“Throughout this case, Mr. McCrum has demonstrated a shocking misunderstanding of the budgeting process in Texas. Until the budget is approved and the taxes are collected, the funds do not exist. Thus it is legally and factually impossible for Governor Perry to have ever had custody or possession of any funding. It is our belief that both indictments should be dismissed,” Buzbee said.
See here and here for the background. The news about the Public Integrity Unit having investigations derailed by Rick Perry’s veto came out last month. That’s been an undertone to this saga all along, but this is the first time it’s become part of the official record. I have to say, though, that at this point in the case I’m less confident that the indictments will stand than I was prior to Judge Richardson’s ruling. I still believe there’s a clear story to tell about why Rick Perry’s actions were wrong and why this isn’t a simple matter of a veto being stigmatized. (Remember: Texans for Public Justice filed their complaint before Rick Perry issued his veto.) The problem is that the laws in question weren’t written to cover this sort of situation. That doesn’t mean they can’t be applied here. I’m sure that will be a critical part of the next motions to dismiss and Judge Richardson’s ruling on them. It’s just my general feeling that the more convoluted your explanation has to be for why something is true, the harder it becomes to believe it. I hope I’m wrong about this, because I do believe that Rick Perry’s actions were wrong and highly consequential. In a just world, he would face responsibility for what he did. In this world, well, we know how that goes. I’m not ready to despair, but color me concerned. The Trib and Trail Blazers have more.