Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday accused Democrats in his state of punishing Republican opponents by misusing prosecution power and the courts because Democrats “can’t get what they want at the polls.”
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Perry hailed a court ruling Thursday that threw out the felony conviction of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, putting an end to the eight-year legal travail for the congressman from Texas on charges of laundering illegal political contributions.
Mr. Perry, himself under investigation by a special prosecutor in an ethics case, declined to say whether he will create a judicial review board to determine whether — and to what extent — prosecutions in his state are politically driven.
He said he was immensely pleased that a Texas appeals court threw out the conviction of Mr. DeLay.
“I always thought the Democrats had a witch hunt against Tom, and I said so from the beginning,” Mr. Perry, a probable 2016 Republican presidential nomination candidate, said in a Newsmaker interview with The Washington Times.
“Democrats can’t get what they want at the polls, so they use prosecutors and the courts to gain their ends,” the three-term governor said.
Mr. DeLay, once considered the most powerful Republican in the nation, had been living under a legal cloud for eight years until Thursday’s decision was handed down.
A Texas court gave Mr. DeLay a three-year prison sentence after his conviction for what the court said was illegally funneling money to other Republican candidates.
Mr. DeLay left Congress in 2006, and his ordeal cost him dearly in legal expenses that apparently will keep mounting thanks to the appeal of the latest decision.
The appeals court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to uphold the conviction, but Mr. DeLay’s travails aren’t over. The Travis County District Attorney’s Office is appealing the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2-1 ruling to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Mr. DeLay, also in Washington on Thursday on separate business, said that what the prosecution claimed he had done would be perfectly legal under current campaign finance laws.
“I’m not saying it was easy to go through,” he told reporters. “On the other hand, if you read the ruling [it says] this is an outrageous criminalization of politics. In the ruling, they say I should have never even been charged, much less indicted.”
As the number of cases of prosecutor misconduct have mounted, law schools, criminal defense attorneys and libertarians have called for prosecution review boards.
Looking for business
Mr. Perry, in Maryland to recruit businesses to relocate to Texas, visited the Beretta USA gun factory in Accokeek. He said he met with the two top executives who told him he was the first and only governor of any state to visit the factory since it was founded in 1975. Mr. Perry wouldn’t say whether he got a commitment from them to move their facilities to Texas, saying only, “Let’s say the visit went well.”
In what political observers regard as one of several signs he is preparing for a 2016 run, the governor, whose stumble during a presidential nomination debate is thought to have been a prime factor in his dropping out of the 2012 GOP presidential nomination contest, has been visiting a number of states to sell them on the tax-and-regulation advantages of moving to Texas.
He said he will lead a business delegation this year to Israel, which presidential aspirants of both parties regard as a must-visit destination. What a Texas Republican described as an “important” announcement will be made just before the Perry trip.
Mr. Perry seemed eager to discuss the judicial reforms he would seek as president but checked himself, declining to talk about a proposal to appoint a judicial review board in Texas to look into the partisan politics that many say is behind some prosecutions of Republican officeholders in the state.
He said it would be inappropriate to discuss such things while he is being investigated.
He said the investigation resulted from incidents that began with the drunken-driving arrest and imprisonment of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who oversees the integrity unit and whose function is to prosecute corruption and malfeasance.
She was an assistant to Ronnie Earle, who as district attorney sought and won a grand jury indictment of Mr. DeLay for campaign money laundering. Mr. DeLay and other Republicans called it an act of vengeful partisanship.
When stopped by police, Ms. Lehmberg had registered a high level of intoxication and was exceptionally abusive to police when arrested, reports at the time said. Mr. Perry said he would withhold money from the integrity unit until she stepped down as its head. The unit had been investigating the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas on charges of favoritism and mismanagement of public funding. The governor was a major supporter of the center.
A Democratic-leaning citizens group, Texans for Public Justice, then sued him for abusing the power of his office. That lawsuit triggered the appointment of a special prosecutor.