There are a lot of rumors and false information swirling around the twin-indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry on charges of abuse of power and coercion. Olivia Nuzzi does a good job of cutting through the bull in an entertaining way. Nuzzi explains what happened, but you might want to supplement that with Ian Millhiser’s take at Think Progress if you’re interested in Perry’s prospects in court.
Most of the legal minds think getting convictions will be very difficult, and that may well be true. The heart of the case against Perry involves his threat to issue a veto followed by him actually issuing a veto. The reason this was considered coercive and an abuse of power is because he took those actions in an attempt to force Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County District Attorney, to resign her office. The ostensible reason for this was because the District Attorney had been arrested for driving very drunk. But the more likely reason is because Perry would have been able to replace her with a Republican. And that would have allowed Perry to control the office that investigates official wrongdoing in Austin.
From the Democrats’ point of view, Governor Perry was trying to shut down investigations of his own office and his political allies, and this whole charade amounted to an obstruction of justice (a charge not made in the indictment). I am certainly inclined to take that view myself.
However, the Republicans thought the District Attorney was acting in a partisan manner. And, in any case, she had gotten herself arrested for driving so drunk that she could have easily killed someone. Why shouldn’t they take advantage of the situation?
But the crux of the problem for the prosecution is that the governor of Texas has a constitutional right to issue vetoes, and along with that comes the right to threaten to issue vetoes. To prove in court that doing these things was coercive and an abuse of power, they will have to show some kind of corrupt purpose. That the governor didn’t think he was committing a crime is shown by the fact that he was quite open about what he was doing, even if he wasn’t necessarily honest about why he was doing it.
His veto was a line-item veto against the appropriation for the state’s Public Integrity Unit, which was controlled by the District Attorney. By shutting down their funding, he was effectively shutting down investigations, including an investigation into the issuance of grants by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Corruption at the Cancer Institute was a subject that Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott had no interest in pursuing.
So, what we have here is an example of the governor acting in a very coercive way that really does amount to an abuse of power, and most likely in the furtherance of covering up official wrongdoing and obstructing the pursuit of justice. But, that doesn’t mean that it can be proven to a jury’s satisfaction, or that the prosecutors would win on appeal outside of the liberal oasis in Travis County.
In the meantime, Rick Perry’s presidential aspirations just took a major blow.