Late Friday, news of Rick Perry’s two count indictment for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant generated headlines across the country.
Rick Perry, his allies and the broader GOP quickly circled the wagons around their embattled governor and hit back. They quickly tried to spin that Perry’s indictment was the result of partisan politics.
Nothing could be further from the truth – here are the top 3 reasons why you should take this seriously…
1. The Investigation into Perry’s Conduct Was Not Partisan
Perry claims he’s the victim of a partisan witch hunt. That’s simply not true. An non-partisan, good-government group filed the original complaint against Perry for abusing the power of his office.
Officials from Travis County who are Democrats recused themselves from the case entirely. Billy Ray Stubblenfield, the presiding judge in the case, is a Republican and was appointed by Perry himself. Judge Stubblenfield picked a Republican judge and Bush appointee, Bert Richardson, to preside over the case. He in turn, selected the special prosecutor, Michael McCrum.
McCrum began his career as a federal prosecutor during George H.W. Bush’s administration. In 2009 McCrum was recommended for the job of U.S. attorney by Texas’ two Republican Senators.
The individuals who led the investigation into Perry’s misconduct and those presiding over this case have strong Republican bonafides – hardly a partisan group intent on taking down a Republican Governor. And for the record, there’s nothing partisan about those citizens who sit on a grand jury.
2. Perry Had Reasons to Derail the Public Integrity Unit’s Work
Perry claims he wanted to gut funding to the Public Integrity Unit because of a DUI. If that’s the case, why didn’t Perry say anything when two Republican District Attorneys were arrested during his tenure. Nor did he demand the resignation of state legislators that found themselves in the same predicament.
The fact is that Perry could have had another motive for gutting the Public Integrity Unit. The PIU was investigating the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), a multi-billion dollar state funded institution with a record of misconduct and graft.
In 2012 two Nobel laureates resigned from the cancer institute, amid concerns about the integrity of the institution’s grant procedures, suggesting politics were at play after funding was disbursed without review by the appropriate panel.
Last year, a former high ranking CPRIT official was indicted for improperly awarding an $11 million grant to a company that happens to have large investor who is also a Republican donor – a donor to Perry.
As The New York Times described it, the PIU happened to be “conducting a potentially damaging investigation into a medical research institute that has been one of Mr. Perry’s favorite avenues for grants and jobs." This investigation was underway when the Governor called for the head of that investigative unit to resign.
Perry pushing Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign was a win-win. Lehmberg either resigned and he appointed her successor or he vetoed the PIU’s funding. Both would have the same effect: stopping the investigation into the CPRIT its tracks.
What’s more, Perry’s aides actually offered Lehmberg another government job if she just resigned from her post. If that sounds suspicious to you, you’re not alone.
3. Perry’s Threat Was More Than Hardball Politics
No one disputes that Rick Perry – and all Texas Governors – have the power to line-item veto legislation. That’s not what this case is about: it’s about Rick Perry’s overreach and abuse of power.
A Governor using a veto to affect the legislative process or policy is one thing; using a veto in attempt to force an elected official to resign and possibly stymie a politically damaging investigation, is another.
During Friday’s press conference, Perry exclaimed, “We don’t settle political differences with indictments.” He’s right – we don’t, we settle political differences at the ballot box.
But that begs the question, why did he try to force out the Travis County District Attorney, a duly elected post instead of just waiting until the next Election Day to campaign for a new District Attorney? Why is he pushing her ouster when he made no resignation calls against other District Attorneys who found themselves in similar situations? Why did his aides offer her another job given his vitriolic rhetoric against her?
Perry’s actions are much more than just hardball politics and there are many more questions to be answered. Was it illegal? Well a grand jury of Perry’s peers thought so but we’ll see.
Does it merit further investigation? Absolutely.
It’s been nearly a century since a Texas governor has been indicted and this one will get his day in court. But until then, this deserves a serious look.