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 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT