A grand jury was sworn in Monday to look into whether Gov. Rick Perry acted improperly last year when he threatened to kill funding for the Travis County district attorney’s public corruption division unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned after her drunken driving conviction.
The office of the governor – who carried through on the veto threat – has hired defense lawyer David Botsford to “ensure the special prosecutor receives the facts in this matter,” Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said.
“The facts will show this veto was made in accordance with the veto power afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” she said. “As we have from the beginning, we remain ready and willing to assist with this inquiry.”
Because the inquiry concerns actions by Perry in his official capacity, Botsford’s $450-an-hour fee is expected to be paid from general revenue, Nashed said.
Much as it pains me to say it, that is appropriate. Perry could of course offer to pay for it from his ample campaign funds, and I’m sure he’d have no trouble getting a sugar daddy or two to cover the tab, but he’s not required to do so.
Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics, last year filed a complaint with prosecutors over Perry’s threat, contending he violated laws against coercion of a public servant, abuse of official capacity, official oppression and, potentially, bribery.
Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, emphasized that the group’s focus is on Perry’s threat. He said the group does not question Perry’s right to veto the funding itself.
“He’s got the authority to veto whatever he wants. He just can’t threaten to use his official pen or his official act against anyone, let alone the DA,” McDonald said.
Political experts suggested a criminal case against Perry for the veto threat is a long shot.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to prison for signaling that they would utilize their veto power to try to encourage an outcome. If that were the case, then I think pretty much every governor in the United States at one point or another would be guilty as charged,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said.
Oh, for crying out loud. Can we not agree that there’s something problematic with an elected official demanding that another elected official resign her office, and using the power to veto funding for her office as a threat to make her resign? As District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg can convene a grand jury to investigate anyone she thinks might have committed a crime. If she had demanded that a member of Austin City Council resign for whatever the reason, and threatened to convene a grand jury to investigate every member of that Council person’s staff if he didn’t resign, then followed through on it afterward, would we not agree that that is an abuse of her power? It doesn’t matter if this hypothetical Council member has done anything that might merit a grand jury investigation. The point is that there are limits on the power, and going beyond those limits is at the least a concern and may be a crime. I don’t see what’s so hard to grasp about that. If the grand jury comes back with a no-bill based on their understanding of the law and the evidence presented, then so be it. We built limits on the powers of our elected officials in Texas for a reason. It’s appropriate to check when we think an elected official may have attempted to exceed the power of his or her office. Texas Politics has more.