Well, Rick Perry getting himself indicted is certainly a game-changer, in a state which is famous for its lack of political game-changers.
It’s mostly pure-D government grade-A inspected entertainment, from the view in the peanut gallery. But there are some serious issues here beyond the hysterically funny memes bound to result from mug shot photoshops soon to be made. Which, honestly, I can hardly wait for, although truth be told, they couldn’t possibly be any better than Rosemary Lehmberg’s jailhouse photos.
First of all, I’m a bit puzzled by the indictment. It seems weak to me. When the criminal complaint was first made following Perry’s veto of Lehmberg’s Public Integrity Unit, it seemed weak to me then, too. But then, Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum remarked publicly that he was especially concerned about Perry’s actions post-veto, which might rise to the level of breaking the law.
Finally, an aspect of this that made sense to me. Except that in reading the actual two-count indictment, it appears to focus on Perry’s veto, and his threatening words before the veto. A layman reading between the lines of the indictment would conclude that, while it’s perfectly legal to line-item veto a DA’s budget, it’s illegal to threaten to veto a DA’s budget, if you then subsequently veto that budget.
Don’t get me to lying – I’m not going to practice law without a license on this situation, but personally that seems like (good)hair-splitting. I’m left wondering whether the case is weak, or whether there are smoking gun-like aspects of a strong case which aren’t spelled out in the indictment. Either thing, or both things, are entirely possible. Only time will tell.
The trial, if there is one, may come down to whether the Governor was within his Constitutional rights, threat or no threat, in vetoing a line item, or whether he was out of his lane by trying to circumvent a legal process by which a district attorney may legally be removed from office (a process in which, incidentally, Lehmberg prevailed).
The second notable item related to the indictment is that I have seldom seen such breathless hyperbole, misdirection, and misinformation launched in any situation than I have in this one. Opinion leaders from the left, the right, and even from some journalists, are guilty of it.
On the right, folks immediately went on the attack. Almost all of them with some form of “this is a partisan Democratic spiteful persecution – the Travis County DA indicted the Governor out of revenge!” Apparently these folks are either unaware that DA Lehmberg didn’t perform this prosecution, or don’t care that they’re spreading misinformation. After a criminal complaint was filed (also not by DA Lehmberg), a special prosecutor (who isn’t DA Lehmberg and doesn’t work for DA Lehmberg) was named to head this investigation. He is believed to be a Republican, having first been appointed to President Bush to be an Assistant US Attorney. He was subsequently nominated by Obama to be US Attorney, his name having been forwarded to the White House by Republican Senators Cornyn and Hutchison (he withdrew from that nomination). So sorry – Lehmberg has nothing to do with this criminal investigation, and the special prosecutor who does is no Democratic political hack.
On the left, folks have been trying their best to claim that Perry vetoed the funds in order to stop an in-progress criminal investigation of CPRIT, the cancer prevention agency full of Perry appointees running amok (with a guest starring role by Attorney General Greg Abbott). The trouble is, there’s absolutely no evidence that this is true, and there’s even circumstantial evidence that it probably isn’t. One thing to leak out during the criminal investigation of Perry is that, following the veto, in continuing efforts to get Lehmberg to resign, Perry offered to appoint a Democrat – one who already worked in the DA’s office – to replace her. If true, it strongly suggests “business as usual” would have continued in the DA’s office. That certainly interrupts the narrative that Perry was trying to stop an in-progress investigation. Even if it’s not true, nobody has ever presented any evidence, other than “I wouldn’t put it past him,” to connect those dots. Not that I’d put it past him either, but when it comes to criminal prosecutions, if you can’t connect the dots, you don’t have a valid claim to make.
The right, aided and abetted by a few reporters, have even been pushing this as yet another referendum on DA Lehmberg, usually some form of “if she’d done the right thing and resigned in the first place, none of this would have ever happened.” Thoughtful people can agree or disagree on whether Lehmberg should have resigned following her DWI, but I defy anybody to find a credible criminal lawyer who will tell you that Lehmberg’s resignation – or lack thereof – has any significant legal relevance to the criminal prosecution the Governor currently faces.
Governor Perry’s biggest challenge at this point is that it’s difficult to move forward in a political career while under indictment, and – just ask Tom DeLay – it’s even more difficult to quickly dispense with a criminal indictment. There are really only two realistic ways to do so quickly: plead guilty (which doesn’t exactly help Perry politically), or go to court and get the indictments quashed (which is seldom successful, unless the motion is made by the prosecution side). So both Perry and the peanut gallery are probably in for a long ride.
Meanwhile, however, based on the public utterances of folks in the first day following this indictment, I would strongly urge folks to view the spin from all quarters with a full half-gallon of salt.