Skip to main content

The perils of Rick Perry

By James C. Moore
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
James Moore says Gov. Rick Perry is reinventing himself with new glasses, but they won't distract from a grand jury probe.
James Moore says Gov. Rick Perry is reinventing himself with new glasses, but they won't distract from a grand jury probe.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • James Moore: Texas governor reinventing himself, but grand jury inquiry won't go away
  • Grand jury takes up allegations Perry bribed, coerced official to force her out of office
  • Moore: State official was conducting criminal investigation that might have implicated Perry
  • He says Perry's troubles are good news for Jeb Bush in race for presidential nomination

Editor's note: James C. Moore is a business consultant and partner at Big Bend Strategies, a business messaging firm. He is co-author of "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential" and a TV political analyst.

(CNN) -- Politicians struggle with reinvention after failure, and during the Internet era, everything lives forever in the digital universe. Some things simply cannot be undone, no matter how hard we might try.

Buying a nice pair of black glasses, for instance, to suggest character and intellect will not prevent search engines from finding stories and videos of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's famous "Oops" moment during a nationally televised debate. Although an entire nation either grimaced or laughed through his blunder, he will continue trying to portray himself as presidential timber, a leader who is as good at creating jobs as he is at inadvertent political humor.

James C. Moore
James C. Moore

Those new specs won't make a grand jury investigation go away, either.

A special prosecutor in Austin has impaneled a grand jury to examine allegations that the governor of Texas may have bribed and coerced a key state official to force her out of office. At the time, her office was investigating one of Perry's signature projects, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute. (Watchdog group Texas for Public Justice filed the complaint with the prosecutors.)

Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County district attorney, oversees the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates possible corruption in state government. Her office had launched the investigation of the multibillion-dollar cancer research agency after 18 scientists, including the Nobel laureate director, resigned in protest. They had claimed that investment decisions for that organization were being made without proper scientific review and that tens of millions of dollars were ending up in the hands of Perry supporters and donors for their business ventures. One former executive of the agency had been indicted in connection with an improperly awarded $11 million grant, and the case is pending.

And then Lehmberg was arrested for driving while intoxicated.

Republican Perry demanded that Lehmberg, a Democrat, resign after a video showed her behaving belligerently and asking for favoritism during booking. When she refused to step down, he threatened to withhold her $7.5 million state funding, which she was using to pay for the cancer investigation. Lehmberg would not accede to the governor's demands -- she is a locally elected official -- and he followed through on this threat to veto the budget.

Perry ignites audience at CPAC
Gov. Perry: America can be great again
Rick Perry reacts to Cruz at CPAC

The move to cut the funding for the state watchdog group had a few political benefits for the Texas governor. He had just eliminated money for a legal inquiry in which he possibly might have, eventually, been implicated. If she had quit, Perry would have also had the authority to name Lehmberg's replacement, most likely a Republican, which then becomes a convenient way to avoid any potential charges or political damage in advance of a second GOP presidential run.

A special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, was assigned to the case and has said he was "very concerned" about Perry's behavior. The governor has, consequently, hired a high-profile Austin criminal defense lawyer. Perry has not spoken publicly about the case, but his office is arguing that he was constitutionally empowered with a line-item veto and that he did nothing wrong. Because he claims to have been acting in his capacity as governor, Perry plans to have his lawyer paid out of taxpayer funds.

Any attempts to characterize the investigation of Perry as a political prosecution are uninformed. Texas law is clear on official abuse of power: Prosecutors would only need to show that Perry was offering considerations in return for actions by District Attorney Lehmberg.

If there is evidence of any additional conversations after Lehmberg's original refusal and the formal veto, and evidence that Perry or his representatives attempted further negotiations for her resignation in exchange for anything, McCrum's presentation to the grand jury could become more compelling in convincing members that Perry was coercing another officeholder.

A Travis County judge said it was communicated to him that Perry's representatives told Lehmberg, even after the veto, that money for her office would be restored if she resigned, actions that could easily be interpreted as bribery or coercion by the grand jurors. The special prosecutor appears to have confirmed that he is looking at whether Perry's office made such potentially illegal representations by acknowledging that he is looking at everything "before and after the veto."

Perry's problems come at precisely the wrong moment in his reintroduction tour of America, and the legal tangle might harm his presidential profile worse than shutting down lanes of a bridge. In fact, the Texas governor's actions, if proved by evidence, are worse than the New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie team's traffic tricks because Perry might have obstructed justice, not just a thoroughfare. At least Christie has exhibited the basic sense to use his campaign funds to pay his $300,000-plus in legal fees and not lean on the state's overburdened taxpayers to fund his defense.

The secrecy of grand jury proceedings are likely to prevent Perry from getting hammered in the media on every day, but his troubles quickly turn into good news for the emerging campaign of Jeb Bush.

Neither Perry nor Christie has to be convicted of a crime for the former Florida governor to be viewed as the putative GOP front-runner for the 2016 presidential nomination; they need only to have their reputations harmed. Christie is already battered, and Perry is just starting to take punches, which continues to prove there is still entertainment value in American presidential politics.

Just not much character or leadership.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT