A few months ago, not long after he was indicted on two felony counts, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) forgot what crimes he’d been charged with. “I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t really understand the details here,” he said in August.
The likely Republican presidential hopeful was nevertheless certain that he didn’t do whatever it was he was accused of doing, and Perry’s legal team still hoped to have the charges thrown out.
As the Austin American Statesman reported late yesterday, things clearly aren’t going the way the former governor had hoped.
A judge denied a second and more substantial request Tuesday by former Gov. Rick Perry to dismiss the indictment against him prior to trial, likely extending his criminal case for the next several months as Perry continues mounting a possible presidential campaign.The ruling by Judge Bert Richardson, a San Antonio Republican, comes five months after Perry’s attorneys filed the writ of habeas corpus, a sign of the slow speed at which the case is churning through the criminal justice system. Immediately after the ruling, Perry’s attorneys filed formal documents appealing the ruling to the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals, a process that could take several months and stall possible resolution of the case.
In case it’s not obvious, most presidential candidates try to avoid launching national campaigns while under felony indictment, and Perry’s legal team was counting on a victory it did not receive yesterday.
By all appearances, however, the Texas Republican apparently won’t let a little thing like criminal allegations get in the way of his ambitions, largely because Perry just doesn’t believe the charges have any merit.
The question then becomes, is he right? I don’t believe so, no.
For those just joining us, let’s recap a bit. The story starts, oddly enough, with a DUI. In April 2013, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. She eventually pleaded guilty, apologized, and served 20 days behind bars for her first offense.
But Lehmberg, who’d been easily elected to her D.A. position, did not resign her post. That didn’t sit well with Rick Perry, who said she should resign in light of the DUI incident. Lehmberg refused.
So, the governor decided to kick things up a notch. Perry announced that if Lehmberg did not resign, he would use his veto power to strip her office of its state funding. When Lehmberg ignored the threat, the governor followed through and vetoed the funding.
At this point, some might be wondering what the big deal is. After all, it hardly seems outrageous to think a governor would want to see a district attorney step down after she spent a few weeks in jail. If the law authorizes Perry to use his veto power, how could it be illegal?
According to the prosecutors who secured the indictment, the answer is: context is everything.
In this case, Rosemary Lehmberg wasn’t just a D.A. who got caught drunk driving. She’s also a Democrat. What’s more, she’s the district attorney for Travis County – home to Texas’ state capital – which gives Lehmberg responsibility for investigating allegations against leading officials in state government, including all ethics complaints against Texas state officials through a Public Integrity Unit that Lehmberg helps lead.
And given that this is Texas, where Republicans dominate, the fact that there’s a Democrat in charge of a Public Integrity Unit that investigates GOP officials doesn’t sit well. Republicans have long wanted one of their own in that office. (Note, it was the Travis County D.A.’s office that indicted then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay nearly a decade ago.)
Given these details, the innocuous explanation is that Perry used his legal authority to push out a district attorney who got caught committing a crime. The not-at-all-innocuous explanation is that Perry used the DUI as a pretense to gut a Public Integrity Unit so that Republican state officials would face less scrutiny from a pesky Democrat.
Members of a grand jury evidently weren’t persuaded by the innocuous explanation and indicted the governor in August, charging him with “abuse of official capacity” and “coercion of a public official.” Perry’s lawyers urged a Texas court to dismiss the charges, and as of yesterday, that didn’t work.
I’ve written more than once about why I think there’s a reason to believe Perry is in real trouble here.
I realize there are some who’ve argued that this is a partisan fight, with Democrats going after a Republican – I’m still laughing at how brazenly wrong Peggy Noonan was when she made the case that the charges against Perry were “crazy,” citing details that were the opposite of reality – but the accusations about partisanship are still baseless. The prosecutor in this case, Michael McCrum, worked in the Bush/Quayle administration, and was appointed to oversee this case by a Republican judge. Yesterday’s ruling was also delivered by a Republican judge.
As a consequence, the case will move forward, and the legal proceedings will apparently coincide with Perry’s presidential bid – and the combination of the two will probably be unlike anything we’ve seen in quite a long time.