Rick Perry has been indicted by a grand jury for abusing the power of his office. The indictment came as a shock not only to Republicans, but also to Democrats. All of those who now claim that Perry will not be convicted have one thing in common: they have not seen the evidence against Perry that the grand jury found convincing.
The jury indicted Perry for vetoing funding for the public integrity unit. Although this unit operates within the District Attorney of Travis County's office, it is an independent entity charged with the vital task of investigating corruption in Texas. Just before Perry pulled the plug, a lengthy investigation by the public integrity unit had led to the indictment of Jerald Cobbs, a senior executive of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
Perry has been using the Institute as his private slush fund for years, having directed millions of dollars in grants to be given to big donors to his various campaigns. The indictment of Cobbs last December was a big red flag in Perry's face. Cobbs was a lower echelon player, indicted for awarding $11 million to a corporation without properly investigating that company as required by Texas law. But lower echelon players are frequently willing to trade their own jail time for testimony against bigger fish, like Perry and Greg Abbott, both of whom were involved with the slush fund.
Abbott, Texas Attorney General and current candidate for governor, had public exposure in the broadening scandal because he sat on the board of directors of the Cancer Institute and was supposed to look out for the public interest. Abbott never bothered to attend board meetings, a fairly obvious indication that he had not been doing his job.
There was a second indictment against Perry, alleging that he had tried to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign her office. Perry's motive for targeting Lehmberg was that she had been convicted of drunk driving and sentenced to 45 days in jail. This, he said, proved that she was unfit for her position. There was no legal requirement that she do so, however, and she refused.
Again, Perry's attempt to force Lehmberg from office leads back to possible future indictments that might come from the public integrity unit. One of those who could be indicted is Perry himself; another is Abbott. If Lehmberg resigned, Perry could appoint a friendly politician to be district attorney who could then stifle further investigation into corruption within the Perry administration. It was essential for Perry and his friends that Lehmberg resign voluntarily. If she were impeached, there would be an election to replace her, and Perry would lose his chance to control events.
One well-known fact about prosecutions like the one now threatening Perry: the prosecutor will be able to investigate the activities of the Cancer Institute and Perry's cronies using subpoena power to read emails and other communications between them. This is the real reason that Perry cut funding for the public integrity unit.
Perry's defenders contend that Perry had every right to cut the state agency's funding. But President Nixon had every right to fire his Attorney General during the Watergate investigation. Nixon hoped thereby to stop the unraveling of his administration. Nixon used the power of the presidency to stop the investigation against him, just as Perry has done in this case. But using a legal procedure to obstruct an investigation is a clear abuse of power.
Perry's defenders also content that he cannot be impeached because Republicans control the Texas State Legislature. But the Democratically controlled legislature of Illinois impeached then-Governor Rod Blagojevich for abusing his office, exactly the same charge that Perry now faces. Although Blagojevich became famous for offering to sell an appointment to the US Senate, he was also convicted on 17 charges of corruption, including pay to play and influence peddling, the same kinds of charges that Perry now faces.