The indictment of Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry over abuse of power and coercion is reminiscent of the way that political dissent was handled in the Soviet Union, legal scholar and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz told Newsmax TV's
who make clear he would never vote for Rick Perry, said Monday the governor's indictment was driven by politics and is representative of "what happens in totalitarian societies."
He said disagreement with Perry's actions is "not the basis of what a criminal charge should be," adding that Americans have the ability to "vote against him" if they don't like his actions.
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"The two statutes under which he was indicted are reminiscent of the old Soviet Union — you know, abuse of authority," Dershowitz said Monday. "The idea of indicting him because he threatened to veto spending unless a district attorney who was caught drinking and driving resigned, that's not anything for a criminal indictment. That's a political issue."
Perry was indicted Friday, accused of abuse of power by withholding funds to the district attorney's office in Travis County — county seat of Austin, Texas — following the drunk-driving arrest
of county District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. He was also charged with coercion, as opponents claimed his veto of funds for the county's integrity unit was an attempt to force Lehmberg to resign.
Similar cases of using the criminal justice system to attack political adversaries are cropping up in other states, including Alaska, New York, and Virginia, Dershowitz said, adding that the practice has to end because it makes people "very suspicious of criminal justice and of the legal system."
"Right now, we are seeing it. It's beginning to spread. And that's why it's so important to put a stop to it now, and to say the criminal law is reserved for real crimes, not for political differences where a party in power or out of power gets revenge against the other party. That's just not the way to use the criminal justice [system]," he said.
Dershowitz said he cared "deeply about the integrity of our legal system." He said he is also "outraged" by a conviction against former Texas GOP Rep. Tom Delay, which was overturned in 2013. He said he had been involved in similar cases "all over the world," and that he hated "to see it come to the United States of America."
In the scandal involving New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie over the closing of commuter lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge last year, Dershowitz said he "would not favor indictment," though he said it is "appropriate" to "bring him in the forefront of political criticism."
The criminal justice system needs to be limited to the "real criminals out there murdering and raping and robbing," rather than to resolve political differences, he said.
Political pundits and columnists have derided the Perry indictment. David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted that the indictment "seems pretty sketchy."
Democratic analyst Doug Schoen said the indictment was "outrageous" and called it "one of the worst things that the Democrats could do."
Javier Manjarres, managing editor of The Shark Tank, called the indictment a "witch hunt," and said it is a "vendetta" on the part of Lehmberg, adding that Perry's opponents are "trying to see what sticks against the political wall."
"They know he's running for president. They want to muck up the political waters with him," Manjarres told Newsmax TV on Monday. "There's no downside of this for him. They're going after him for something ridiculous because of what he did. And what he did was right."
Dershowitz, who calls himself a "liberal Democrat," said he doesn't "approve of [Perry's] views on most matters, certainly on social matters." However, he said Perry's actions were "not the basis of what a criminal charge should be," and explained the indictment was "political in nature, and that's why I'm so opposed to it."
A video surfaced of Lehmberg's arrest, indicating she was uncooperative with police when they tried to give her a DUI road test, and showing officers had to restrain her.
She appeared to ask the police officers to enlist the help of Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton.
Dershowitz said it appeared that Perry made the "right decision" to withhold funds from Lehmberg's office, but suggested all the facts may not be known. Still, it should not be resolved in criminal court, the noted attorney said.
"You know, there may be more to this than [withholding funds]. It may be that he wanted her out of office because she was investigating some of his people. That's politics, and it should be resolved in the political context, not in the criminal justice context," he said.
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