Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink, Drive, and Remain Prosecutors

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink, Drive, and Remain in a Prosecutor’s Office

From Right Now Strategies:

Here’s the gist:

A day after a grand jury indicted him on two felony charges, a defiant Rick Perry on Saturday called the prosecution of his conduct a “farce” and “abuse of power.”

The governor promised to fight the charges and concluded brief remarks by bluntly saying, “I intend to win.”

During a news conference at the Capitol broadcast live on national TV, Perry blamed partisan politics for the indictment and focused, in part, on the behavior of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, whose drunken driving arrest last year prompted him to seek her resignation.

“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry said.

Perry faces charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, which together carry maximum sentences of 109 years in prison and $20,000 in fines. He has not yet turned himself in at the Travis County Jail but is expected to do so in the next several days, when he will be fingerprinted and photographed.

Travis County grand jurors delivered the indictment 14 months after Perry said he would withhold a $7.5 million, two-year state allotment to Lehmberg’s office unless she stepped down.

Lehmberg did not resign, and Perry carried out that threat, saying he would not grant the appropriation because Lehmberg had lost the public’s confidence with her DWI arrest. Her blood alcohol level was 0.239, and while in jail, the district attorney was belligerent.

Perry’s argument: “I very clearly, I very publicly said that as long as that individual was going to be running that agency — I had lost confidence in her, the public had lost confidence in her,” Perry said. “I did what every governor has done for decades, which is make a decision about whether it was a proper use of state money to go to that agency. And I vetoed it. That’s what the rule of law is really about, Shannon. And I stood up for the rule of law in the state of Texas. And if I had to do it again I would make exactly the same decision.”

Quite a few folks on the Left don’t think there’s a legitimate criminal case here, and that we’re witnessing a reckless attempt to paint routine acts of politics – i.e., vetoing a budget as leverage – represents corruption.

New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait:

The conventions of reporting —  which treat the fact of an indictment as the primary news, and its merit as a secondary analytic question —  make it difficult for people reading the news to grasp just how farfetched this indictment is…

The prosecutors claim that, while vetoing the bill may be an official action, threatening a veto is not. Of course the threat of the veto is an integral part of its function. The legislature can hardly negotiate with the governor if he won’t tell them in advance what he plans to veto. This is why, when you say the word “veto,” the next word that springs to mind is “threat.” That’s how vetoes work.

The theory behind the indictment is flexible enough that almost any kind of political conflict could be defined as a “misuse” of power or “coercion” of one’s opponents. To describe the indictment as “frivolous” gives it far more credence than it deserves.

Obama’s chief strategist David Axelrod: “Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy.”

Alan Dershowitz: “ ‘This is another example of the criminalization of party differences, said Dershowitz, a prominent scholar on United States constitutional law and criminal law who writes the “Legally Speaking” column for Newsmax. ‘This idea of an indictment is an extremely dangerous trend in America, whether directed at [former House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay or [former President] Bill Clinton.’”

Remember Tom DeLay? Another prominent Republican who was charged with iffy crimes by an outspoken prosecutor. DeLay was indicted in 2005. Then there were literally years of delays and legal efforts to get the charges dismissed. The jury reached its verdict in 2010. DeLay was convicted of one charge of money laundering and one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering… and then in 2013, the convictions were overturned by the Texas Court of Appeals. So we may be watching the first shots of a legal battle that will go on for years, maybe a nearly a decade.

There’s been a lot of buzz that this could actually rebound to Perry’s benefit, if he intends to run for president in 2016. He’ll be able to point to this as an example of the politicization of law enforcement and, in related controversies, the U.S. Department of Justice.

Or… in light of the lengthy but fruitless “John Doe investigation” of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, this appears to be the progressives’ newest form of “lawfare”: take routine activities of governors and insist, before a grand jury, that they are crimes. Sometimes, like in the case of Chris Christie, a GOP governor or his staff will give his opponents a scandalous opportunity. But even if the charges are baseless, the headlines of “GOVERNOR INDICTED” inflicts the political damage the progressives seek.