- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 17, 2014

A tricky back story clouds the decision by a Democratic state prosecutor to indict Texas Gov. Rick Perry on an abuse of power charge, apparently in retaliation for the Republican governor’s veto of funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption, which could cut both ways in Mr. Perry’s expected 2016 bid for the White House.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg sought — and won — the grand jury indictment of Mr. Perry on Friday, at a time when U.S. attorneys appointed by President Obama also happen to be investigating two of Mr. Perry’s potential rivals for the 2016 Republican nomination: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Conservative partisans naturally think something smells rotten in all this, but in Mr. Perry’s cases, even prominent Democrats such as David Axelrod say they are suspicious that the Perry case is just the latest example of prosecutorial political overreach.

“Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy,” Mr. Axelrod, chief strategist for Mr. Obama’s 2008 and 2012 election wins, tweeted last week.

Liberal retired Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz also criticized the decision to indict Mr. Perry, telling Newsmax.com that “everybody, liberal or conservative, should stand against this indictment. If you don’t like how Rick Perry uses his office, don’t vote for him.”

SEE ALSO: ‘Witch hunt’: Cruz, Jindal rush to defend Gov. Perry after indictment

At the center of the debate is Ms. Lehmberg, a Democrat whose district attorney office’s includes the public integrity unit, which investigates political ethics violations as well as tax and insurance fraud. Mr. Perry in effect tried to defund her office after Ms. Lehmberg refused his demand that she resign after her April 2013 drunken-driving arrest and jailing for 45 days.

A police video on YouTube of her arrest https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrxsCH_p1oc shows her uncooperative and at times belligerent with the arresting officers. The incident only intensified the efforts of the governor to rein in what Texas Republicans have long considered a rogue agency engaged in the politicized prosecutions.

Mr. Perry was unapologetic in an interview Sunday with Fox News, saying he would veto the state funds again if the bill came back to his desk. He cited Mr. Axelrod and Mr. Dershowitz in attacking Ms. Lehmberg’s decision to indict him.

“Across the board, you’re seeing people weigh in and reflecting that this is way outside of the norm. This is not the way that we settle differences, political differences, in this country,” Mr. Perry told “Fox News Sunday.” “You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.”

There is especially bad partisan blood between Republicans and the Travis County district attorney’s office. It is the same office — under a different Democrat-appointed district attorney — that indicted Tom DeLay in 2005, effectively forcing the House majority leader to leave Congress. It wasn’t until last year that an appeals court threw out Mr. Delay’s conviction.

Although no love is lost between Republicans and Travis County Democrats, the indictment has brought mixed reactions from Republicans.

“The indictment actually helps the governor,” said Waco, Texas, tea party leader Toby Marie Walker. “He will be made into a political hero; his polling will go up. It will only hurt if they can prove the DA isn’t a drunk.”

Many have suggested that the indictment strengthens Mr. Perry’s base, but help with his base and help with undecided Republican presidential primary voters are not the same thing.

Former Travis County Republican Party Chairman Alan Sager thinks “in the GOP primary, [the indictment] helps him. If he can articulate it as part of the moral decline of society, I think it’s a winner for him.”

Mr. Sager thinks Mr. Perry acted within his gubernatorial prerogative and his First Amendment rights in making the demand that Ms. Lehmberg step down.

Another part of the back story are questions about the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, a pet project of Mr. Perry’s that has been under investigation for redirecting contributions to Republican politicians, including Mr. Perry, and to Republican business cronies.

A former high-ranking Texas Republican Party official said he doesn’t want to comment on the record because, although Friday’s indictment is on “nickeland-dime charges,” Mr. Perry’s feud with the district attorney could be based on “another investigation” — the cancer research institute.

If Democrats manage to turn that issue against Mr. Perry, it will make the charges for which he has been indicted seem almost trivial, the official said. Republican voters, especially philosophical conservatives, have an often enunciated loathing of crony capitalism and crony politics.

But former Texas Republican Party Chairman Tina Benkiser insists that the governor has the better case, at least for partisan reasons, among fellow Republicans.

“He used the governor’s constitutional right of veto. Given President Obama’s total disregard for the U.S. Constitution and rule of law, I think most people would like to see a return of all elected officials being strong but staying within their respective constitutional boundaries,” Ms. Benkiser said.

For one thing, Perry supporters will make clear to voters that the public integrity unit sits in the Travis County district attorney’s office.

“This is the unit that investigates statewide elected officials, judges, etc.,” Mr. Benkiser said. “I called long ago for this unit to be moved into the attorney general’s office since the [attorney general] is elected by people from across the entire state.”

She noted something that Perry supporters think that fight will resonate with voters who otherwise might doubt his chances.

“Travis County is the liberal bastion of left-wingers in Texas,” she said, noting the former District Attorney Ronnie Earle indicted Mr. DeLay and would even use his office to go after other Democrats who crossed him.

Arguing that the Travis County district attorney’s office has long been used as a political tool, she said that “the drunk DA was Ronnie Earle’s hand-picked successor, so that mindset continues.”

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