Summary: Republican Governor Rick Perry was booked today on criminal charges stemming from his vetoing funding for a Democratic prosecutor’s office.
Governor Rick Perry headed to the Travis County criminal courthouse in Austin today to turn himself in for public corruption charges, Bloomberg reported earlier. The booking comes just a day after his defense team rejected the indictment, hinting that the charges were politically motivated due to Perry’s plan to run for president in the 2016 election.
Perry’s attorney, Tony Buzbee, argued that the grand jury’s indictment was an attempt to criminalize politics. In an interview, Governor Perry also stated the timing of the charges was “suspect.”
The charges stem from accusations that Perry, a Republican, abused his authority in trying to force a Democratic prosecutor, Rosemary Lehmberg, to step down. Lehmberg’s office investigates government corruption in Texas. After Lehmberg refused to step down from her position after being convicted of drunk driving, Governor Perry vetoed funding for her office.
A nonprofit group, Texans for Public Justice, filed the initial complaint. Its position is that Perry’s true motive to kick Lehmberg out of office was to interfere with an ongoing investigation of a cancer-research funding program, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which Perry supported. This isn’t the first allegation of wrongdoing against the program: last year, a former official was indicted for mishandling grant money. Plus, the Institute has been criticized for providing state funds to Republican donors.
Buzbee maintains that Governor Perry was following the state constitution and exercising his First Amendment rights when he vetoed funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, Lehmberg’s office. Buzbee stated that Governor Perry will fight the claims “100 percent and at the end of the day he will prevail.”
RICKPac, a political action committee that supports Perry, released a video that compared arrest and jail video of Lehmberg. The video also included images of her undergoing a field sobriety test and being restrained. However, Michael McCrum, a former federal prosecutor who was chosen to lead the investigation against Perry, confidently stated that more than 40 interviews and hundreds of documents back the charges. McCrum added that the grand jury’s indictment demonstrates that there is probable cause that Perry committed two felonies. The August 15 indictment includes charges for abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony. The coercion charge is punishable by two to 10 years in prison, whereas the abuse charge carries five to 99 years.
Governor Perry was a guest on Sean Hannity’s radio show yesterday. He argued, “This needs to be exposed for the absolute corrupt process that it is…the timing is suspect, to say the least.” A rally was planned for 5:00 p.m. today at the courthouse to demonstrate support for Perry. Steve Munisteri, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, stated that while his staff would be in attendance, the party did not sponsor the rally. Munisteri commented that the party wanted the governor to “see friendly faces he recognizes.” Disgusted, Munisteri complained that the “Democrats…want [Perry] to be fingerprinted.”
However, if the charges can be cleared before the Iowa caucuses in February 2016, the scandal may boost Perry’s career, according to Munisteri. It could skyrocket Perry to “folk hero” status among his supporters. “People like people who stand up for themselves and show they don’t buckle under pressure,” he explained.
Will Hailer, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, denied that Democrats are behind the indictment. However, it still remains to be seen whether that is truly the case. One of the members of the grand jury was an active participant in the Democratic Party convention while the case was taking place, according to mediatrackers.com. This casts doubt on whether or not politics played a role in the indictment. Hailer remarked that Perry’s defense team is trying to gain the public’s sympathy to counteract the fight he faces in defeating these charges. “Perry has to win two battles-the courtroom battle and the public-perception battle.”
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