Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been indicted on accusations he abused his power
Charges stem from his threat to cut program run by a local DA unless she resigned
Both Perry and the DA got mug shots -- hers for drunk driving charge
But while she's back at work, he has to defend himself against felony charges
She was the one caught driving drunk, but in an odd twist of political fate, he’s now the one who has just been indicted on felony charges.
On the face of it, you might think that Rosemary Lehmberg, district attorney for Travis County in Texas, would be out of her job after being caught driving under the influence, haranguing those who took her in, being convicted and serving 20 days in jail.
But it’s her bitter political rival Texas Gov. Rick Perry who’s now facing serious charges for how he reacted to what she did.
Here are four reasons why Perry – a possible candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination – is in more trouble than the district attorney caught driving with a 0.239 blood alcohol level, nearly three times the state’s legal limit.
Walking the line
She failed miserably to walk a straight line in a field sobriety test, but he’s accused of crossing a political legal line.
Perry joined others calling for Lehmberg to step down after her DWI arrest. But when she refused, he threatened to and then did withhold funding for a program run by Lehmberg – a powerful Democrat in a heavily Republican state.
Some saw his action as strictly political, and an illegal overreach of his powers as governor. He ended up in a police booking room, getting his mug shot and fingerprints taken – making Rick Perry the first Texas governor in nearly 100 years to face criminal charges. And the two felony counts that charge Perry with abusing his power hit the longest-serving governor in the state’s history right at the moment he’s switching his presidential ambitions into high gear.
Talking the talk
In her drunken state, with a blood alcohol level of 0.239, Lehmberg mouthed off to officers and jailers. Perry let money do the talking. He threatened to use his veto power to cut state funding for a special unit in Lehmberg’s control – the Office of Public Integrity – if she did not step down after her conviction.
Lehmberg would not budge, so Perry pulled the $3.5 million in annual state funding for the unit, which ironically investigates wrongdoing by public officials across Texas.
Perry has the right to veto whatever he likes, but threatening to do so to get something he wanted was illegal, according to Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group that filed the complaint against Perry.
Location, location, location
A blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup. That’s what Perry calls Travis County, where Democrats like Lehmberg reign. The county, home of the state capital, Austin, is a spot of blue in an overwhelmingly red state. In 2012, Travis County voted for President Obama while the rest of the state overwhelmingly went for Mitt Romney.
The members of the grand jury that approved the indictment were selected from that Democratic county, but those involved in the legal case say their decision had nothing to do with politics. CNN spoke to several grand jurors, and they said politics never entered their secret discussions. One did add though that the decision to indict the governor was not unanimous. They said the special prosecutor, Mike McCrum, was fair and demonstrated how the governor violated the law.
Lehmberg pleaded guilty to DWI, served nearly three weeks in jail, went to rehab and then went back to her job as the district attorney, able to ignore the calls for her to step down. The felony charges against Perry are much more serious and would not allow him such latitude were he to be found guilty. He faces one count of abuse of official capacity and one count of coercion of a public servant, with the maximum sentence for both at more than 100 years in prison.
Perry calls the charges an “injustice.” “The actions I took were not only lawful and legal but right,” he told reporters at the Travis County Court, where he appeared voluntarily to have his mugshot and fingerprints taken.
Indeed, legal analysts, including CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, a former federal prosecutor, question the indictment. “The governor has the power to veto this money,” Toobin said. “So, the question is, how can it be a crime to threaten to use a power that is entirely within the powers of your office?”
Perry is now in his last few months in office after his 14 years in the governor’s mansion. Speculation that he’s eyeing the White House continues, but he may well have to solve this court case first.