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.