So this happened:
A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday on two felony counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official. The charges are linked to his push for Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, to resign after she was arrested for drunk driving last year.
The case focused on Perry’s threat to veto funding to Lehmberg’s office unless she resigned. Perry eventually made good on that threat, vetoing $7.5 million that would have gone to the Public Integrity Unit in Lehmberg’s office, the Dallas Morning News’ Christy Hoppe explains. He justified the veto by pointing to Lehmberg’s April 2013 arrest for drunk driving, for which she pled guilty and received a 45-day sentence. As a result of the veto, several employees in Lehmberg’s office were either reassigned or lost their jobs, the Austin American Statesman reports.
The DWI incident was not one where Lehmberg had an extra wine cooler and was busted on a technicality. Rosemary Lehmberg was completely hammered when she got behind the wheel of a car and drove the wrong way down an Austin street. She had an open bottle of vodka on her and blew a staggering 0.23. Video shows her as stumbling, belligerent and fighting with the cops. More disturbingly, she keeps telling them to call the Travis County Sheriff as though expecting him to spring her. That’s called abuse of power. Perry was right to demand her resignation.
It does seem a bit capricious for Perry to withhold funds because from an office because of the behavior of its lead. I can see why people might not like his decision to veto the funding for her office. The problem is … it’s not illegal.
the Texas Constitution expressly reserves the veto power to the governor. The governor is entitled to decide which laws he “approv[es]” and which he disapproves — without constraint from the legislature, or from county-level district attorneys. The legislature certainly can’t make it a crime for the governor to veto its appropriation bills; that would deny the governor the power that the Texas Constitution gives him.
Nor can the legislature make it a crime, I think, for the governor to veto its appropriation bills as an attempt to influence some government official’s behavior — behavior that is commonplace in the political process, and that is likewise within the governor’s exclusive power to decide which bills to give his “approval.” To be sure, the legislature can make it a crime for the governor to accept bribes in exchange for a veto; but there the crime is the acceptance of the bribe, not the veto itself.
Lest you think I’m being selective, here’s Patterico, Chait and Rubin. I have yet to see a legal blogger — even on the lefty blogs gleefully celebrating the indictment — who thinks this indictment isn’t a giant flaming piece of crap (and most likely retaliation from Travis County).
I’d just write this off as standard political crap except that we’ve seen this before. Earlier this year, prosecutors gleefully announced that Scott Walker was the center of a giant criminal scheme only to admit days later that he was not a target of their investigation (said investigation having been rejected twice by judges before a sympathetic one allowed it to proceed). And then there is the “Bridgegate” scandal with Chris Christie which has yet to produce anything implicating the governor.
What these three men have in common is that they are all leading candidates for the 2016 Presidential nomination. All three governors are (or were) popular and all three will have long terms at their backs in 2016. Perry was, in fact, a favored candidate in 2012 until he imploded during a debate.
Is it an accident that the Democrats are engaging in “lawfare” against these guys? Should we expect some charges to be brought against Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio?
Stay tuned. I don’t think this is over yet.