'A naked abuse of power'

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's actions were political, not criminal

There’s a very good reason why Texas Gov. Rick Perry is defiant in the face of an indictment against him on felony “abuse of power” charges.

The indictment is pure hogwash, and Perry knows it.

So do legal experts from both sides of the political spectrum, who liken a Texas county prosecutor’s farcical charges to banana-republic politics and Soviet Union-era show trials.

Sensational headlines such as “Perry faces up to 105 years in prison” betray the political
vindictiveness directed against him by liberal Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, whose “Public Integrity Unit” was defunded by Perry in an attempt to remove her from office after she refused to resign over an embarrassing 2013 DUI arrest and conviction.

Perry made it clear in public statements he nixed the $7.5 million budget because he didn’t believe the state should fund an office headed by someone who had lost much of the public’s trust.

Now, Lehmberg and other Democrat partisans obviously are out for payback. But this weak attempt to besmirch Perry – the longest-serving governor in Texas history and a possible 2016 presidential contender – is bound to backfire.

Says The Washington Times: “The indictment of him is so transparent as vindictive prosecution that it will surely topple by its own weight.”

It’s “the stupidest thing I’ve seen, I think, in my entire career,” Bloomberg Politics’ left-leaning Editor Mark Halperin told MSNBC. “I hope some judge throws it out right away. It’s not just kind of funny and ridiculous, but it’s an infringement on individual liberty.”

Liberal scholar and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz said the Perry case “is another example of the criminalization of party differences.

“Everybody, liberal or conservative, should stand against this indictment,” he said in his “Legally Speaking” column.

Keep in mind, this whole sham is over a $7.5 million
appropriation veto. Not a misappropriation. Not a theft. A veto.

Lehmberg’s embarrassingly outrageous post-arrest behavior – online videos are widely available – should have made her slink away from public office forever. Instead, she shamelessly clung for dear life to an office she had dishonored. Perry merely exercised his power to veto her funding.

There’s no question his admittedly bold act was an attempt to persuade the disgraced public official to do what she should have done after completing her 45-day jail sentence. She should have resigned.

He overestimated Lehmberg’s sensitivity to legitimate public shame.

But that’s not a criminal act, as Dershowitz points out. It’s a political miscalculation. And, we might add, heaven help us if we have now criminalized political slips.

In free countries, we punish leaders for doing things we find politically disagreeable by voting them out of office. We don’t concoct flimsy indictments.

“But that’s not the point,” writes Rich Lowry of the National Review. “The indictment is an undisguised attempt to wound Perry, to create bad headlines, to distract him. On cue, Texas Democrats absurdly called on Perry to resign. The indictment itself is, in short, a naked abuse of power.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Travis County – home of the liberal hotbed of Austin (unofficial slogan: “Keep Austin weird”) – has attempted to make criminals out of prominent Texas Republicans. Lehmberg’s predecessor launched failed prosecutions against then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and then-U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay.

The indictment against
Delay, the former House majority leader, for allegedly conspiring to break election laws, drew a 2010 conviction that was overturned last year when a Texas appeals court ruled evidence in the case was “insufficient” to convict.

There’s an old saying that a relentless prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. It’s simply too easy for partisan-minded state and federal prosecutors to obtain trumped-up indictments by hiding exculpatory evidence and piling on charges.

Hopefully, this egregious case will shed light on the urgent need for prosecutorial reform and, at the very least, ensure that vendetta-driven partisans such as Lehmberg and her ilk never are allowed anywhere near a grand jury.

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon