Ethics Dunces: ABC News, Jonathan Karl and the Sunday Morning “Roundtable”

Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry is being threatened with prison by a per se unethical and illegal grand jury indictment, obtained by special prosecutor Michael McCrum, that attempts to criminalize not merely political tactics, which is how critics are describing it, but the essential and obligatory efforts of a state’s elected leader  to remove a corrupt and unqualified district attorney who is unfit to serve, corrupt,defiant….and drunk as a skunk.

You can read various eviscerations of the indictment here, here and here; there are many more. So far, I can’t find a respectable legal source that finds the indictment anything better than jaw-droppingly absurd and an abuse of prosecution. Jonathan Chait, a left-ish pundit and far from a Perry fan (much like me, except for the left-ish part), nicely expresses his contempt of the charge here. A short hand version would be that Perry has been threatened with jail based on what he said about vetoing a bill, which seems like a First Amendment violation to me.

The reason for the Ethics Dunce call on ABC is that this morning, the network reported on the indictment of Perry and its effect on his Presidential prospects in 2016 without explaining the reason for the Governor’s actions that the prosecutor is straining to call illegal. A simple, thorough, clear explanation would be sufficient to cause any reasonable reader or listener to cry “What? You’re kidding! That’s not possible!” That explanation, however, was not forthcoming on ABC, and has been missing from other reporting as well.

. On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, substitute host Jonathan Karl, showed part of the video (above) at the center of the controversy, but neither he nor a single member of the supposedly “all-star” roundtable discussing this issue even mentioned the name of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, or explained why Perry is threatening a veto to remove her from office.  Thus none of the participants mentioned that Lehmberg  has disgraced her office; that her conduct was a violation of legal ethics by any standard; that an unethical prosecutor is a threat to the public and must be removed, one way or the other. Thus ABC’s “experts” could focus on the episode as another Republican governor scandal—like Chris Christie and the mysteriously closed bridge. This is not a Rick Perry scandal. This is a government ethics and legal ethics scandal, with Perry trying to do his duty.

It is ridiculous that Perry should have to lift a finger to remove Lehmberg, and a disgrace that Democrats are not joining the chorus for her to voluntarily step down. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested and charged with drunk driving on April 12, 2013. Her blood alcohol was determined to be  .23, or nearly three times the legal limit. She also had an open bottle of vodka in her car, violating the Texas open container law.

Comically, Lehmberg denied that she was drunk after the arrest, despite the blood alcohol reading, her demeanor, and the fact that she was driving the wrong way down the street. On the video taken during her arrest,  Lehmberg attempted to play the “do you know who I am?” card, and had to be restrained. When an officer told Lehmberg that she had been arrested for DWI, she  replied, “That’s y’all’s problem, not mine,” an implied threat of official retribution. Lehmberg also allegedly attempted to scratch an officer, which would be an attempted felony.

This wasn’t a one-time bender. Austin’s KEYE-TV posted a PDF of all of the DA’s liquor store receipts over 15 months. To say she has a drinking problem would be an understatement. Now, as a result of the arrest, the video and her conduct on it, she also has an integrity and trust problem.  Lehmberg was sentenced to 45 days in jail and had to pay a $4,000 fine. District attorneys should not break the law; their job is to enforce it. An ethical, responsible DA would resign. Lehmberg also lost her law license for 180 days. District attorneys and all prosecutors should be held to the highest standard of conduct because of their position and responsibilities. A private lawyer who had his or her license suspended would be fired from any law firm. Again, an ethical, responsible DA would not only resign, but do so in abject remorse and shame.

Lehmberg, however, is obviously not  an ethical, responsible DA, because she refuses to resign as Travis County DA, which means that she leads the Public Integrity Unit. Governor Perry threatened to veto the budget for the Unit to force Lehmberg to resign. Such a veto is not merely reasonable but mandatory, a  Public Integrity Unit headed by an unrepentant drunk and disciplined lawyer cannot possibly do anything but undermine public integrity.

Might this be necessary background for any news media discussion of the indictment against Perry? Of course it is. The episode makes no sense without all of this background, not merely the fact of the drunk driving arrest, and it is misleading to the point of intentional deception to omit it.


Sources: Washington Post (Volokh) 1,2,3; NY Mag; PJ Tatler


38 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: ABC News, Jonathan Karl and the Sunday Morning “Roundtable”

    • One would expect Democrats to steer clear of this, lest #DemocratsForDrunkDrivers becomes the new election meme. David Axelrod says the indictment is sketchy, which translated is a thinly veiled warning not to bash Perry on this issue.

      Instead, we have these tweets.

      For the sake of Texas, Governor Perry should resign following his indictment on two criminal felony counts involving abuse of office.

      Of course, one could assume that Rep. Castro is a junior congressman who needs some adult supervision.

      Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer calls for Perry to step down. #txlege #GovernorPerry

      Maybe there is a lack of grownups in the Texas Democratic Party. Maybe the DNC could take their leadership behind the woodshed and instill discipline.

      The GOP field has serious problems. You can’t betray the voters’ trust and still expect them to elect you president.

      I do not know how to explain this. Did the Tea Party clandestinely spike their water with brain parasites?

  1. I will start off that if, the chairman of the House Ethics Committee had done what Rosemary Lehmberg, and President Obama were to threaten to veto a bill sponsored by the Ethics Committee chairman unless he resigned, only a handful of right-wing bloggers would call that an abuse of power. Most Republicans in Congress would call on the chairman to resign, while expressing vague doubts about the propriety of the veto threat. A minority of them would publicly speak out in favor of the veto threat

    If I were a district attorney, a drunk driving conviction would not necessarily be a disqualifier for hiring or assigning an attorney to work in a unit specializing in public integrity issues; it would depend on a balancing of aggravating and mitigating factors. However, if an attorney in that unit drove drunk while in office, I would remove him from the unit. Termination would be likely, although I would consider reassignment to another unit if there were mitigating factors

    But if the attorney did what Rosemary Lehmberg actually did such as attempting to use his position to get favorable treatment from the cops), I would fire him.

    For those reasons, Rick Perry was right.

  2. I will start off by saying that my viewpoint is, of course, limited by my knowledge, and that I am glad to have a story apolitical enough to show my face again.

    That being said, I think Gov. Perry was right to try and get rid of Lehmberg, but not perhaps in how he did it. From what I’ve been led to understand, he did not have power to directly fire her, and so he held her agency’s funding hostage until IT fired her. So while his instinct to get rid of her was right, I’m not sure what he did was within his powers. That being said, the response would be, in my opinion, not to prosecute the governor but to fix the hole in his power over his own branch so that he can directly fire bad agents like Lehmberg instead of ‘leaning on’ the agency in ways that create the potential for abuse of power or appearance thereof.

  3. Rick Perry is as dumb as a rock. That being said, he did only what was necessary to protect the people of the State of Texas. President, no. Convict, also no. When Liberals begin using the justice system to promote and protect obviously incompetent politicians, then we have a problem. Have I mentioned today that we are doomed?

  4. I have now seen two versions of the special prosecutor’s surname, Crum and McCrum. Which is correct?

    Trivia: McCrum was the surname of a former headmaster of mine (and so of his son, the author of a book on the history of the English language). Crum (also transliterated as Krum) was the name of a Bulgar leader who was a grave threat to the Byzantine Empire (so there could be a link to that schoolteacher…); so both names have occurred.

    • I had a teacher named McCrumb. I definitely know that was her name because I failed Kindergarten so I had her two years in a row. I don’t think she wrote any books but her husband was the manager of a barbecue place that was real popular in Texarkana, Texas. I liked to eat there a lot. I don’t know how they felt about the Byzantine Empire or any of that stuff. Star Wars didn’t come out til later. But I bet our teachers are definitely related which would make us intellectual peers, Mr. Lawrence.

  5. Perry was being investigated by the Public Integrity Unit led by Lehmberg at the time she decided to get drunk, drive and act like an idiot. Republicans have been looking for a way to get rid of the Public Integrity Unit, which has been historically a Democrat operation, for as far as I can remember. If Lehmberg had resigned Perry would have gotten to pick her replacement… seems he already had someone in mind. A Republican. Democrats swarmed to Lehmberg’s defense knowing that her resignation would be a blow to the Democrats in Texas. This is pure politics. My two cents? And this is for Democrats and Republicans…you want to play politics? If you are investigating someone from another party because you think he is corrupt and has broken the law or just because he happens to be from the other party… then DO NOT drink and drive…and if you happen to see that the police are making a video of your actions…use this time wisely. Give an inspiring speech! It is very important that this speech not be partisan in nature…I cannot emphasize enough that picking a political fight while you are in jail and still “in spirits” after being arrested for a DWI is never a good idea. More importantly this speech must not have any elements of the disdain or contempt that you feel for the “little people” especially the ones who are now responsible for your care. If Lehmberg had given a speech on the virtues of Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, or even God…always stay away from controversial subjects but this is Texas so God is acceptable… then she could have mitigated over 75% of the damage before she even was released from jail. With the right attitude and the right speech…she could have turned this experience into a win for her. But she didn’t. She handled it wrong in every way and because of this incident she handed her ass to Rick Perry. Game Over. He won…she lost. Another point that I cannot emphasize enough when you are playing politics…acknowledge when you have been beat in a political game and hold no ill will for your adversary and under no circumstances should you ever conspire to plan a counter attack. The outcome will be disastrous and what little dignity you have left will be lost in the counter attack and what is worse is that you will lose any good will from your adversary who, if you had complied with the terms of defeat, is in a position to mitigate the damage done to your life due to politics. Lehmberg should have resigned and had Perry over for dinner. A rump roast would have been an appropriate entree as the two could have had a friendly banter on who the roasted rump was to honor. Of course, he would have replaced her with a Republican and The Public Integrity Unit would have been restructured so that it would never act as a thorn in the side of a Texas Republican for a very, very long time and Perry would have no doubt made sure that Lehmberg found a lucrative job in return for her resignation…albeit one far, far away from any position that could hinder any Republican agenda. The Texas Ambassador to the Beaches of Hawaii? Sounds good to me and Lehmberg, of all people, should know that Perry can make good things happen for his friends since that is what she was investigating him for in the first place.

    • As I said before, Rick is dumber than a rock. But he is politically very astute. My prediction, not only will he beat this charge, since there is nothing to it, but Wendy Davis, who probably instigated it, is politically DEAD in Texas. She will lose to Abbott, BIG, and will never be heard of again on the Texas political scene. Nor will the Democrats, because this ill-advised move will cost them enough in public opinion that a Democrat winning an election in Texas will mean he/she was running in Austin.

      • Can Wendy Davis get a restraining order against Rosemary Lehmberg to keep her 1,000 feet from her campaign events?

        Right now, the Texas Democratic Party is bashing Perry over this indictment, seemingly obliviously to the idea that Perry’s veto threat was “essential and obligatory”, and several tweeters replied with references to Lehmberg. If she had an inkling of common sense, she would call the leadership and tell them to stop trying to look like they (and she, by implication) are defending a drunk driver.

        As for President Obama, he has not said anything publicly; I can guess that he is calling every party leader to dissuade them from #stumblingwithRosemaryLehmberg.

        • Agreed, Michael, but living here has put me in a position to see stories about Wendy virtually DAILY, and she has yet to do ANYTHING smart.

      • Wendy who? Oh!! The mom who lived in a trailer park and all that. Yeah, she lost me quite a while ago. I try to block her out. I don’t like liars. Or people who lie by omission in an effort to make themselves sound more appealing.

        • Did you see her latest ad? Claimed that Abbott was in the pocket of Kirby Vacuum Cleaners, because Kirby was being sued by a woman who was raped by a Kirby salesman and Abbott, as a Texas Supreme Court Justice, had a hard time faulting Kirby for not doing a background check. Turns out the guy worked for a Kirby distributor, NOT FOR KIRBY!! Kirby COULDN’T HAVE DONE A BACKGROUND CHECK IF THEY HAD WANTED TO.

          • Yep. I don’t like her tactics. She is a divider…party against party, women against men, people versus big business. Uses hyperbole and emotion in excess…must everything be so dramatic? If she is so concerned about the rape victim presented in the ad then it probably would have been a good idea to at least talk to the woman.

            • I wouldn’t count on anything like that coming from the Democratic Party. For some reason, they literally all love her.

    • I’m doubtful about the ethics of most of what you advocate, but it certainly is more mature and less costly to the state of Texas.
      Keep in mind that the fact of Perry being indicted is all most politicians/journalists will ever want to allow us to know.
      Did you know that some people say Romney is a tax cheat? Some say Harry Reid is a pedophile. Some think Sarah Palin never reads newspapers, and some think Ted Kennedy got away with murder. The fact that in some people’s confusion they think all the above are equally credible is what the scoundrels who brought the suit against Perry are counting on.

      • Here are some comments on another forum on this issue. Some of them are quite, frankly, disturbing.

        You’ve asserted that public officials must be held to a higher moral standard than the rest of humanity. First, I’d like to know why that is the case.

        She did uphold the law. She was arrested, went to court, pled guilty to the charges (i.e. she accepted responsibility for her actions), and was punished accordingly. She could have pulled a Perry and attempted to use her position to get out of the DUI charge, but instead she had enough integrity to accept responsility for her actions.

        See, when we elect a district attorney, we trust them to do one thing: prosecute crimes. So long as they prosecute crimes, and do that properly and well, they’re doing what we asked them to. They are doing the bare minimum of what we expect from them- correctly using the powers of their office to perform the assigned duty. Driving drunk may reflect poorly on the DA’s character and mean they should not have been elected… but it doesn’t mean they have failed to do the actual job the public trusted them to do. We didn’t elect this DA to be sober, we elected them to prosecute cases.

        Seriously, she made a bad decision and followed it up by doing the right thing. What’s blowing my fucking mind is apparently we have shitheads on this board that are attempting to justify Rick “The Dick” Perry making a blatant attempt to shove a shill appointee into one of the few effective anti-corruption enforcement agencies in the state of Texas.

        Plus, if you actually read my arguments (which I doubt), you would have to notice that IT DOES NOT MATTER whether Lehmberg has lots of integrity or no integrity. Perry is not being charged with “thinking Lehmberg has no integrity.” He is being charged with misusing the power of his office and threatening to misuse taxpayer money, in order to coerce an elected official into acting in a certain way.

        It DOES NOT MATTER that you think Perry was justified in doing so because this particular elected official was dishonorable and inferior. It is not Perry’s place to hire or fire Lehmberg, and it is not his place to threaten to defund a law enforcement operation in an attempt to blackmail her into resigning against her will.

        Your appeals to “common sense” do not impress me. Give me a good reason why a moral failing, which incidentally has nothing to do with investigating corruption, should automatically disqualify a person from holding office. You assert without cause that this is the case. Please provide evidence that Lehmberg’s DUI has harmed the PIU’s integrity in any way. If you can’t do this without repeating some version of your “DUIs are rly bad guys” silliness, then maybe you should just go away.

        And here is the money quote

        And as for The Hammer, that’s true. He did get his conviction overturned by the Texas Supreme Court, an elected body that consists almost entirely of conservative Republicans. They didn’t think DeLay actually did all that stuff, and Texas doesn’t really have much in the way of campaign finance laws anyway. It makes no matter, though. He was still a cancerous growth on Congress’ asscheek, begging for a public fall from grace. And when he got convicted the first time around, we as a nation are better off for it. Ronnie Earle did humanity a favor when he realized that DeLay broke campaign finance laws, and he did us an even greater one when he got DeLay convicted. Whether or not “justice” was actually served against him isn’t so important. The fact that he no longer holds office though? That’s very important.

        It blows my mind there are people who actually think like this.

          • another quote from that same forum.

            Of course! And the people on the Travis Commissioner’s Court would have tossed Lehmberg out on her ass a long time ago. They’re not doing it because there are, frankly, more important things at stake. In a state like Texas where the GOP has historically run roughshod over the Dems, they cannot afford to lose powerful positions like this. Considering the number of cases coming out of the PIU, including, incidentally, a Perry-allied ex-official who channeled millions of dollars to some of his big contributors, the Travis DA’s office has more influence than just about any Democrat in the state. If Perry didn’t have the right to appoint her replacement, and he almost assuredly would have appointed a fairly right-wing replacement, I’m sure the Travis County Dems would like to tell Lehmberg to take a short walk off a long pier. Unhappily, there are more important considerations at hand.

            I fail to see how making Rosemary Lehmberg the standard bearer of the Texas Democratic Party is supposed to help the Texas Democratic Party.

            • Michael, since the Texas Democratic Party saw fit to nominate a fruitcake like Wendy Davis, my guess is that they’ve already thrown in the towel, except for desperate actions like this one, which has little hope of success.

            • I know I’m coming to the party late, but two things occur to me.

              1) Why would Lehmberg not negotiate with Perry over who he would appoint as her successor, back when he was threatening the veto? That would’ve accomplished Perry’s stated objective, and would have saved her department from being put under a far right wing boss, as well as saving its funding.

              If not a win-win, at least an acceptable compromise. Oh wait, compromise is an evil, evil thing in today’s political world. My bad.

              2) “the GOP has historically run roughshod over the Dems”. Historically, the Democrats ran Texas as they wanted for over a century. Have we all forgotten what an upset it was when George Bush beat Ann Richards for governor? That was just under 20 years ago, and at that time I don’t thing the GOP controlled either house of the legislature nor the Lt. Governor (a ‘historically’ powerful state position).

              So many people seem to assume that yesterday and today comprise the whole of recorded history, it often seems to me.

    • Very cynical. Public integrity units should not be partisan in any way, and the fact that this corrupt idiot was running it calls into legitimate question everything it did. There is nothing political whatsoever about demanding a suspended, law-breaking, postion-abusing, drunk DA resign, no matter who the Governor is and what party her replacement will be. It really is simple as that. You don’t get to the politics, because pure non-partisan ethics demands the same result.

  6. Pingback: Texas Chainsaw Prosecution | pundit from another planet

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