So let me see if I understand this correctly: if the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, had just waved through the $7.5 million taxpayer funding for the public integrity unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office, an office led by a convicted drunk driver with an astronomical .24% alcohol level, then Perry would not now be facing “abuse of power” felony charges. Had Gov. Perry just put down his veto pen, and sent the money to this particular Democrat District Attorney, he would not be facing almost 100 years in state prison. Do you see how ridiculous that sounds?
And have you seen the video of the prosecutor in question? It would be funny if it weren’t a lead prosecutor of a very important Texas county, Travis County. The video, which has been making the rounds on the Internet, shows District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg at different times claiming that she was not drunk, which was obviously not true, kicking her jail cell door, calling the case against her stupid, and topping it off with a kind of “do you know who I am?” routine. That didn’t work for former United States Senator Larry Craig when he was busted for lewd sexual conduct in a men’s restroom, so why should it work for Lehmberg? Ms. Lehmberg can even be heard mumbling “this is the end of my political career,” making at least some sense in her extreme drunken state.
But she was wrong there, too! A local court later decided that Lehmberg was just fine to stay where she was as Travis County District Attorney, prosecuting other drunk drivers and even available to prosecute other public officials as part of the office’s public integrity unit. From that point on, any prosecution, especially any “public integrity” prosecution, led by Ms. Lehmberg was suspect.
Here’s why: if anyone is arrested for drunk driving and is prosecuted by DA Lehmberg, a fair question to be asked would be “maybe she is being so hard on that defendant and his drunk driving because she wants to show that she has extra regret for being caught doing the same thing.” Or “maybe she is going easy on that drunk driver because she wants to show that what she did was really no big deal.” Or if she prosecutes a public official for some misdeed in office, “maybe she is being so harsh or lenient (take your pick) to compare that case favorably with her own case or to show that she really regrets what she did.”
See how that works? No one is perfect, but anyone prosecuting other people for crimes or public officials for their misdeeds at least needs to be above such questions and have nothing in their background that prompts a discussion like this. And “public integrity” prosecutions are supposed to be a serious discussion of an accused public official and whether they broke the law, not some scorecard to be compared with the prosecutor’s own personal past.
In context, Gov. Perry’s funding veto makes perfect sense. To the contrary, had Gov. Perry not vetoed the funding for Lehmberg’s office, it would have looked like Perry was being irresponsible.
“Oh, but this charge is being led by a special prosecutor, with no direct connection to the Travis County District Attorney,” the defenders of this prosecution might say. But it is no secret that these charges were first suggested by Texans For Public Justice, a liberal Texas activist group that specifically targets Republican office-holders. And according to the Dallas Morning News, the special prosecutor in this case, Michael McCrum, was almost appointed to be the local U.S. Attorney by President Obama. The Travis County District Attorney’s office also has a habit of criminally prosecuting prominent Republicans: first, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, then Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and now Republican Governor Rick Perry.
Recently, the members of the grand jury that signed onto the indictment have shown their partisan colors as well. Five members of the grand jury were shown to have been consistent Democrat voters while one member was even found out to be a Texas Democratic Party delegate while the Perry proceedings were going on.
If this prosecution ever goes to trial, it will be impossible for the trial jurors not to notice that this case is being prosecuted by a DA’s office that was denied funding by the defendant, Gov. Perry.
Even some Democrats agree that this indictment is a bad idea. Former Obama adviser and prominent Democrat David Axelrod tweeted “unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry’s indictment seems pretty sketchy.” Liberal columnist Jonathan Chait, of New York Magazine, calls the Perry indictment “unbelievably ridiculous.”
In fact, this prosecution is so bad that instead of defending it, some Democrats have invented new theories of the case. As was reported in the blog Powerline, a Democratic party official sent out an e-mail arguing that Perry’s funding veto was in part because the Travis County DA was investigating a group with close ties to Gov. Perry. However, a report in the newspaper Austin American-Statesman, points out that the friends of Perry in the group in question were cleared long ago. So this argument is a total red herring.
In the end, this has a big possibility of backfiring on Democrats. If there is a verdict of “not guilty,” it is conceivable that a similar “abuse of office” charge could be brought against the special prosecutor, which would be funny, but Gov. Perry could use the acquittal in his presidential campaign, just like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will use his recall victory in his presidential campaign. Republican voters like candidates who fight, and a few battle scars on a candidate are appealing.
If, on the other hand, the jury somehow convicts Gov. Perry, the conviction will eventually be thrown out on appeal, as was the conviction against Republican Thomas DeLay a few years ago. Not only that, but Republican prosecutors in other Texas counties will begin to catch on that if Texas someday has a Democratic governor, similar criminal charges could be brought against that governor. Only a few years ago, Texas actually did have a Democrat governor, Ann Richards, and she issued a few vetoes.
It could also work out that being prosecuted for something will become a kind of rite of passage for either side: Republican governors will be criminally prosecuted by the Travis County District Attorney, while Democrat governors will be criminally prosecuted by district attorneys in any of the various Republican counties in Texas — maybe in succession!
No, this indictment against Gov. Perry was definitely not thought through. As they say in Texas, this case is “a dog that won’t hunt.”
This column was originally published in Caffeinated Thoughts