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Rick Perry’s New Scandal Grows Legs—What’s Next?

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Patrick Michels

Last night brought new developments in the investigation into Rick Perry’s meddling in the affairs of the Travis County district attorney’s office. County officials revealed that Perry’s office was trying to dislodge Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg even after his veto stripped her office of funding. That seemingly strengthens the case against the governor currently being considered by a grand jury.

We know that Perry last spring had threatened to (and later did) veto funding for the Travis County DA’s anti-corruption unit unless Lehmberg resigned following a DWI arrest. But now we know that wasn’t the end of it. (If you haven’t been following the investigation, read this explainer I posted last week.)

First, the Texas Tribune’s Terri Langford got confirmation from Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe that the governor’s office had reached out to certain Travis County officials to make explicit an offer that the governor would restore funding to the Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit, which he had previously vetoed, if Lehmberg resigned. That would’ve allowed Perry to appoint her replacement. Shortly after that story broke, the San Antonio Express-News’ Nolan Hicks got Gerald Daugherty, the lone Republican on the five-member Travis County Commissioners Court, to say the same.

We knew that Perry had tied Lehmberg’s resignation to the cut in funding before his veto, but now we know that he reportedly did so after the veto as well. The essence of the thing is the same—if the latter is illegal, it’s hard to see how the former could be legal—but the optics are worse. In effect, he offered to provide funds to a local government body if its leader quit, and his office made the unwise decision to make clear it was a quid pro quo.

In short, this thing—Perry-gate? Lehmberg-gate? Vodka-gate?—is growing legs. “This isn’t really news to us, but we’d never seen anyone go on record,” said Craig McDonald, the director of the left-leaning watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, who filed the complaints that resulted in the grand jury investigation.

The new revelations make it clear Perry “continued to meddle in local affairs after the veto,” McDonald said. “After the veto, he continued to offer things to make her step down.”

That’s important because Perry’s spokespeople have stated repeatedly that the governor did nothing wrong, that he was simply acting in accordance with his constitutionally granted veto power.

But if Perry’s office made the money-for-resignation offer again weeks after the veto,  that blows a major hole in the governor’s public defense so far.

“That certainly strengthens the case for bribery,” McDonald said.

The charges that the Austin grand jury are considering against Perry include bribery, which, under the Texas Penal Code, involves accepting or offering to provide any “benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision […] or other exercise of discretion as a public servant, party official, or voter.”

It is “no defense to prosecution under this section that the benefit is not offered or conferred,” the code continues, until after “the public servant ceases to be a public servant.”

The Tribune reported that Perry’s second offer was communicated by intermediaries to Lehmberg, who “rejected the proposal outright because of concerns that such an offer may be illegal,” presumably because of fears she’d be violating this exact statute. (And presumably because she’d rather keep her job.)

In the report, we also see some of the outlines of the governor’s defense strategy forming. Perry’s spokesperson Lucy Nashed told the Tribune that “neither the governor nor any member of staff met with or spoke with Ms. Lehmberg.” Between the lines, the suggestion is the fact that Perry’s threat came through intermediaries insulates him from criminal charges.

Christopher Hooks joined the Observer in 2014. Previously, he was a freelance journalist in Austin, where he grew up. His work has appeared in Politico Magazine, Slate, and Texas Monthly, among others. He graduated from The New School in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in history.

  • DavidD

    The law of course should not apply to Perry.The law is only meant to be applied to a lesser sort.
    A GOP public official who has been such a devoted servant to the better class of people that God has put in charge to rule us can’t be expected to follow the law.
    He is obviously innocent and such base partisan attacks should be punished under any law we can come up with to make sure this never happens again.

  • 1bimbo

    ‘meddling in the affairs’? our governor refused to give state funds to an ‘integrity unit’ in travis county that has the woman in this video in charge of it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r00-6_JJJ3g

    • dudebuddypal

      The law is the law and even the governor has to abide by it. Now the court system will decide whether what he’s done is against the law.

      • 1bimbo

        i’m aware you’re used to accepting corrupt, lying cheats as national leaders, but texas has a history of holding those people accountable, the ‘integrity unit’ has no credibility and needs to be investigated, ‘texans for public justice’ who brought the complaint is neither a texas nor a bi-partisan group …what the h*ll is a san antonio/bexar county judge doing appointing a san antonio special prosecutor for a case based in austin/travis county? there’s corruption to be investigated all right-in san antonio

        • KrSpo

          It is interesting how the integrity unit stops having Integrity in Perry’s eyes when he is the one getting investigated.. Fascinating

    • joethepleb

      So why didn’t he demand that State Rep. Naomi Gonzales resign public office after her DWI last session??

    • Glenna Jones-Kachtik

      Didn’t even watch the video. Even if she WAS charged with DUI, it does not negate what Perry did that was illegal. He is not so high up that he can use bribery (tit for tat) & get away with it. Her “integrity” is not what is in question here, but his actions. There have been a gazillion people who have been charged with DWI/DUI who have been lawyers & whatnot. Some resigned & some didn’t. Withholding funds for her unit unless she resigns is not legal – neither is going back after he has vetoed the funds & then offering to release them if she resigns. That is illegal & Perry is guilty of it whether it was him or someone in his office.

      • 1bimbo

        just because you’re biased against the GOP doesn’t mean there’s a smoking gun with our governor, perry is an honorable man who realized it’s shameful to allocate money for a unit which has an integrity and abuse of power problem with its leadership, lehmberg is a disgrace who threatened law enforcement because they were doing their jobs.. and it’s telling that she would not step down, it’s indicative of the problem with democrats, there’s no accountability for their leaders, just excuses, denial and ‘accepted’ illegal behavior

        • Glenna Jones-Kachtik

          Answer joethepleb’s question? There have been county judges & police who have had

          DWIs & no money was withheld. You really don’t know that this unit has an integrity & abuse of power problem – you just THINK it does. By the way, since when is it honorable to reward people with power they don’t deserve. Perry has a long history of making “facts” fit & shaping policy to suit him. Example – not accepting credible reports from firemen who said Willingham was not guilty & refusing to let it be investigated further. His “rewarding” people who worked on his campaign cushy jobs that they had no experience in???? You seem to have this fascination with the GOP that says they are never wrong. There is plenty of accountability for our Democratic leaders….I don’t care whether they are Republican or Democrat they should be held accountable.

        • texasaggie

          “perry is an honorable man ”

          Man, you have to share that stuff you’re smoking. It isn’t right to have that powerful a hallucinogen all to yourself.

          What do you call it when Perry’s political appointees overrule a unanimous decision by the technical staff that a nuclear waste dump shouldn’t be situated over the Ogllala aquifer, especially when this nuclear waste dump is a project of one of his most generous supporters? What do you call it when the majority of the money in his two taxpayer supported funds to attract industry to TX go to corporations that donate large sums of money to his reelection campaign chest? What do you call it when the lawyer for his most generous supporter is appointed head of a commission that is supposed to oversee that supporter? I have a very difficult time attaching the word “honorable” to those actions.

        • BBunsen

          “Honorable man?” Have you ever heard of CPRIT and the Texas Enterprise Fund?

  • Bob Martin

    I like this guy’s defense. “Look at her booking video. She got a DUI.” Which has dip diddly squat to do with the fact that Slick Rick gutted her ethics commission to get her off his back. It’s about time this guy was held to account for his shenanigans. I’d like to investigate his dealings with the TCEQ and his oil patch buddies too. But Hey. I went to jail for failure to change my address on my drivers license once, (true story) so what credibility would I have?

  • BBunsen

    This is confusing. I thought the law in Texas was that any politician who did NOT accept a bribe was guilty of a felony.