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“Rick Perry’s Clown Show”: A Real Ham — Only Not As Smart

Trial lawyers will tell you that any good prosecutor could convince a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

Well, meet that ham sandwich! Here in my burg of Austin, Texas, a grand jury has just indicted Gov. Rick “Rooti-Toot-Toot” Perry, a real ham — only not as smart. He’s charged with official abuse of power — specifically, threatening to veto all state funding for a public integrity unit that, among other things, was investigating corrupt favoritism in one of the governor’s pet projects. Perry was trying to muscle out of office the woman who is the duly elected head of that unit, presumably to halt its inquiry. Leave office, he publicly barked at her, or I’ll take away all your money. She didn’t, and he did.

Not smart, for that’s an illegal quid pro quo, much like linking a campaign donation to an official favor. This led to a judge, a special prosecutor, a grand jury and now the indictment of the gubernatorial ham sandwich.

Perry and his Republican operatives quickly denounced and even threatened both the special prosecutor and the jurors as partisan hacks who, in Rick’s words, “will be held to account.” Thuggish as that is, the national media have mostly swallowed Perry’s hokum that he’s the victim, indicted for nothing more than exercising his veto power. It’s crude politics, Rick howled. But political candidates should avoid getting defensive — as old-timers put it, any candidate who’s explaining is losing.

So it’s a hoot to watch Gov. Rick “Oops” Perry try to explain away his felony indictment for abusing his gubernatorial power. His first ploy has been to try dodging real questions by turning the indictment into a circus.

He literally mugged for the cameras when getting his mugshot taken as he turned this courthouse moment into a raucous Republican political rally. Image consultants had advised him to ditch the horn-rimmed glasses that previous image makers had told him to wear so he’d look smarter. Also, he wore a light-blue tie, for the consultants said that color conveys trust. Of course, he always coifs his trademark hair, but they also told him to apply skin makeup to avert any sweaty look and to put cool packs on his eyes on the morning of the shot so he wouldn’t look haggard or … well, guilty. Think pleasant thoughts as the picture is snapped, they instructed, and smile — but a humble smile, not an overconfident one.

Perry did all of the above, except the humble smile, giving his usual arrogant smirk instead. The day before his courthouse circus opened, Ringmaster Rick brought in the clowns — a whole troupe of $450-an-hour, hotshot lawyers wearing red power ties, came blustering onstage with Perry from out of a back room, as though tumbling out of a tiny clown car. Introduced as the indictee’s legal dream team, each tried to outdo the other in a slapstick show of résumés, puffing themselves up as junkyard-tough lawyers who would shred this prosecutor and his flimsy case. Meant to show how strong Perry is, the pack of lawyers only raised another question for Perry in the public mind: If the charges against you are nothing, as you keep saying, why do you need so many heavyweight, extremely pricey lawyers?

Perry has hornswoggled the pundits, but don’t let them fool you — Perry clearly abused his power as governor. Again, the issue is not Perry’s veto, but his linking of a veto threat to his effort to oust an elected public official. As for his hamming it up about being a poor victim of Democrats, the judge who appointed the prosecutor is a Republican, and the prosecutor himself was nominated to federal office by President Bush I, and endorsed by Texas’ Republican senators. This indictment is not a show. It’s way more serious than Perry is, and the real explaining he’ll have to do will be in a somber courthouse — under oath. To keep up with Perry’s circus, go to Texans for Public Justice at www.tpj.org.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, August 27, 2014

August 28, 2014 Posted by | Abuse of Power, Rick Perry, Texas | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Rick Perry Said And Did Nothing”: Two Other District Attorneys Faced The Same Charges Under Similar Circumstances

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) legal troubles started over a year ago, when Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. After an ugly scene in April 2013, Lehmberg, a Democrat, pleaded guilty, apologized, and served 20 days behind bars.

Despite the fact that this was the district attorney’s first offense, Perry called for her resignation. Lehmberg refused. As we discussed over the weekend, this set a series of steps in motion: the governor announced that if she 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, in the process scrapping resources for the Texas Public Integrity Unit.

Now, for those who are skeptical of the case against Perry, the governor’s actions hardly seem unreasonable. Indeed, it’s not exactly outrageous to think a governor would want to see a district attorney step down after she spent a few weeks in jail.

But the Dallas Morning News added an interesting wrinkle to this argument.

Rick Perry was outraged at the spectacle of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s drunken-driving arrest last year. But he didn’t feel that strongly when two other district attorneys faced the same charges under similar circumstances.

In those cases, he said and did nothing.

This is no small detail. If Perry was convinced a DUI was a disqualifier for a district attorney, why did the governor apply this standard so selectively?

Democratic strategist Jason Stanford put it this way: “The key difference was that one of the DAs was investigating his administration for corruption and the other two DAs weren’t.”

In 2009, for example, a Kaufman County D.A. was convicted of drunk driving, his second offense. Perry’s office said nothing, dismissing it as a local issue.

In 2002, a Swisher County district attorney was found guilty of aggravated DWI, which came against the backdrop of a scandal involving the prosecutor and a sting operation gone wrong. Again, Perry said nothing.

So why would the governor rely on different standards? Jason Stanford, the Democratic strategist, added that Perry treated Lehmberg differently “in a way that makes you question what his motives were. And he had a real clear motive because she’s investigating him for corruption” in connection with a cancer-fund scandal.

I realize many on the left and right have been quick to dismiss this case on the merits. That said, I can’t help but wonder if they were a little too quick in their judgments.

Update: I heard from Gov. Perry’s press secretary this morning, who passed along an affidavit from Chris Walling, a former investigator with the Public Integrity Unit, who said the governor was not a target in the cancer-fund scandal.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 21, 2014

August 24, 2014 Posted by | Abuse of Power, Rick Perry, Texas | , , , | 2 Comments

“Wounded Innocence?”: Why Rick Perry May Be Out Of Luck

Governor Rick Perry of Texas and President Barack Obama, strangest of bedfellows, are making similar discoveries about the scope of prosecutorial discretion. In short, it’s very broad.

Perry’s education on the subject is an unhappy one. Late Friday, the Texas Governor, who has about five months left in his term, was indicted on two counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. What those charges mean, though, is hard to say. The indictment itself is just two pages and, to put it charitably, unelaborated.

The case has its origins in Perry’s long-running feud with Rosemary Lehmberg, a district attorney in Travis County, which includes Austin and represents an island of blue in the deep-red sea of Texas. Last year, Lehmberg was charged with drunken driving. She promptly pleaded guilty, which, in light of the YouTube videos of her sobriety test and her booking at the police station, was no surprise.

Lehmberg served several days in jail but declined to resign, so Perry decided to make the most of her difficulties. He said that, unless she resigned, he would use his power as Governor to veto $7.5 million in state money for her Public Integrity Unit, which had been hard at work prosecuting Texas pols, many of them Republicans. He could not, he said, support “continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”

What Perry did was obvious. The Governor was using his leverage to jam a political adversary—not exactly novel behavior in Texas, or most other states. But Democrats succeeded in winning the appointment of a special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, to investigate Perry’s behavior, and on Friday McCrum brought the hammer down. The threat to veto the money for the D.A. amounted to, according to the prosecutor, two different kinds of felonies: a “misuse” of government property, and a corrupt attempt to influence a public official in “a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty” or “to violate the public servants known legal duty.” (In the charmingly archaic view of Texas statutes, every public official is a “him.”)

Perry’s indictment has been widely panned, including by many liberals, as an attempt to criminalize hardball politics. (Vetoing things is, generally, part of a governor’s job.) Perry himself is all wounded innocence. “I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes, and I intend to win,” he said at a news conference. (It would be easier to feel sorry for Perry if he expressed similar concern about, say, the constitutional rights of those who were executed on his watch and with his support.)

So Perry may have a point, but he also has a problem. Prosecutors have wide, almost unlimited, latitude to decide which cases to bring. The reason is obvious: there is simply no way that the government could prosecute every violation of law it sees. Think about tax evasion, marijuana use, speeding, jay-walking—we’d live in a police state if the government went after every one of these cases. (Indeed, virtually all plea bargaining, which is an ubiquitous practice, amounts to an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.) As a result, courts give prosecutors virtual carte blanche to bring some cases and ignore others. But, once they do bring them, courts respond to the argument that “everyone does it” more or less the same way that your mother did. It’s no excuse. So if Perry’s behavior fits within the technical definition of the two statutes under which he’s charged, which it well might, he’s probably out of luck.

The President is relying on the same concept of discretion to push immigration reform, even though Congress has refused to pass a law to do so. The legislative branch writes the laws, which define the classes of people who are subject to deportation. But it is the executive branch that decides which actual individuals it will pursue and deport. Over the past several years, the Obama Administration has used its discretion to allow more immigrants to stay. During the 2012 campaign, the President announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which amounted to a kind of administrative DREAM Act. It limited the number of deportations of people who had been children when they were brought illegally to this country, provided they meet certain other conditions. The legality of DACA has not been successfully challenged.

Prosecutorial discretion is not unlimited. The executive branch can refrain from prosecuting certain individuals, but it cannot, in theory, offer immunity to entire classes of law-breakers. Nor can a prosecutor only charge people of a certain race, or, for that matter, political party. But it’s hard to know who would have standing to challenge a failure to bring a criminal case or a deportation. The rules of standing are usually limited to individuals who have suffered a specific harm, and there’s no harm in not being prosecuted. (The New Republic has a useful primer on the subject. )

That sort of limitation on prosecutorial discretion is unlikely to help Rick Perry. His complaint is that the prosecutor is bringing one case too many, not too few. That claim, almost invariably, is a loser. So, it turns out, may be the soon-to-be-former governor.

 

By: Jeffrey Toobin, The New Yorker, August 19, 2014

August 21, 2014 Posted by | Rick Perry, Texas | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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