AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for allegedly abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption – making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state’s first indicted governor in nearly a century.
A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit run by the office of Travis County Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Lehmberg was convicted of drunken driving, but refused Perry’s calls to resign.
Perry was indicted on charges of abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.
No one disputes that Perry is allowed to veto measures approved by the Legislature, including part or all of the state budget. But the left-leaning Texans for Public Justice government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint accusing the governor of coercion because he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so in an attempt to pressure Lehmberg to quit.
“We’re pleased that the grand jury determined that the governor’s bullying crossed the line into illegal behavior,” said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice. “The complaint had merit, serious laws were potentially broken.”
Asked why McCrum never spoke to Perry personally, McCrum said, “That’s prosecutorial discretion that I had.”
The public integrity unit investigates statewide allegations of corruption and political wrongdoing. Perry said he wouldn’t allow Texas to fund the unit while Lehmberg remained in charge.
Perry said Lehmberg, who is based in Austin, should resign after she was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunken driving in April 2013. A video recording made at the jail showed Lehmberg shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out.
Lehmberg faced pressure from other high-profile Republicans in addition to Perry to give up her post. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit for driving.
Lehmberg served about half of her 45-day jail sentence but stayed in office, despite Perry’s assertions that her behavior was inappropriate.
My distant relative, Col. Albert Jennings Fountain, had to leave his post as President of the Texas Senate back in 1870 or so after he was attacked on the streets of El Paso by a political opponent. Fountain ducked into a bar, borrowed the barkeep’s towel to keep the blood from his eyes and his gun to return to the battle and shot the bastard dead. Having won that fight, Fountain felt it wise to move his family and his law career to Mesilla, New Mexico, across the border and up the street a bit. The Colonel and his seven-year-old son Henry were eventually murdered by another gang of Democrats in the White Sands in 1896. Things calmed down after that but from the sound of things, they’re heating back up. I blame global warming.