Texas Politics

Perry appears to be intimidating grand jury, prosecutor claims

Gov. Rick Perry seems to be threatening to retaliate against grand jurors who indicted him for felony abuse-of-office and is misusing rules to try and toss out the charges before trial, a special prosecutor alleged in a filing made public Monday.

“The defendant’s own words have instilled a concern for all persons who participated in the grand jury investigation,” Michael McCrum, Perry’s special prosecutor, said in the filing, asking a state judge to deny the governor’s request for grand jury transcripts.

Perry, 64, Texas’s longest-serving governor and a presumed candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, faces two criminal counts of abusing his office by threatening to veto funding for a state ethics task force if the county prosecutor in charge of the program didn’t resign following a drunken driving conviction.

He held a press conference the day after his Aug. 15 indictment saying: “This farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and those responsible will be held accountable.”

“This comment struck many listeners as a threat against the members of the grand jury and all of those associated with the grand jury process,” McCrum said. “The state has a good faith basis to protect witnesses who appeared before the grand jury, who would similarly be in the category of those who would be ‘held accountable’ by the governor.”

Perry’s lawyer dismissed the prosecutor’s claim of grand jury intimidation.

“That’s just silly on its face,” Tony Buzbee said in a phone interview Monday. “None of that’s going on and hasn’t gone on.”

Perry contends he’s within his absolute legal rights as governor to veto any funding he chooses for whatever reason. He said he lost faith in Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s judgment when she refused to resign after video circulated on the Internet showing her resisting arrest and verbally abusing law enforcement officials. Lehmberg apologized, pleaded guilty and served part of a 45-day jail sentence.

Perry’s critics claim he was motivated to remove Lehmberg, a Democrat, and slash funding for the state-wide ethics task force under her control because the ethics office was probing a cancer research funding program that benefited some of his political donors. Perry has denied the allegation.

Perry’s lawyers have filed several requests seeking to have the indictment dismissed. They attacked McCrum’s qualifications, claiming he wasn’t properly sworn-in as a special prosecutor and lacked authority to indict the governor.

They also claimed the Texas Constitution protects Perry’s right as governor to say what he wants and exercise his official powers without interference.

“The speech and debate clause of the Texas Constitution protects anyone acting in a legislative capacity, and when the governor exercises his right to veto, he’s acting in his legislative capacity,” Buzbee said.

McCrum, a former federal prosecutor who was brought in from San Antonio to handle Perry’s case, said any procedural irregularities in his official paperwork can be corrected by the judge without taking the extreme step of throwing out the indictment.

The fight continues

Buzbee said he’d continue to fight to have the governor’s indictment dismissed. Perry is expected in court on Nov. 7, when the judge is scheduled to hear arguments on several of these issues.

“Our position remains the same,” Buzbee said of Perry’s claims that his prosecution is a politically motivated effort to derail his nascent presidential campaign.

“This entire proceeding — none of this — should’ve ever happened.”