As pundits debate whether a criminal probe into whether Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry abused the power of his office may derail a 2016 Perry presidential bid, Texas legal experts tell The Wall Street Journal
that charges seem unlikely.
Perry’s action could be viewed as a form of "political payback," according to Houston criminal defense attorney Chip Lewis, the Journal reported.
"Isn't this sort of stuff done every day in politics?" Lewis said. "That's how our sausage is made."
A grand jury is currently investigating a claim by Texans for Public Justice that Perry violated the law when he vetoed $7.5 million in funding to the Travis County Public Integrity Unit. The veto occurred after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to resign following a guilty plea to drunken driving.
Police video captured Lehmberg’s arrest, where she can be seen cursing, arguing and threatening the responding officers.
"The person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public's confidence," Perry said at the time of his veto, according to the Journal. Lehmberg heads the public integrity unit. Travis County includes Austin, the state capital.
University of Texas criminal law professor Susan Klein told the Journal that should charges be brought, it would be "a novel use of the bribery statute." Perry’s decision to veto the funding because of Lehmberg’s refusal to step down doesn’t rise to the level of benefit typically needed to claim bribery, she said.
Perry’s spokeswoman said the governor is confident that his actions were well within the law.
"The facts will show this veto was made in accordance with the veto power afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution," Lucy Nashed said, according to the Journal. "Neither the governor nor any member of staff met with or spoke with Ms. Lehmberg."
While Democrats, or even primary opponents, may try to use the investigation to tarnish Perry’s name, all Perry has to do is show the video of a combative Lehmberg and put his critics "in the position of having to defend the dangerous drunk," wrote Slate columnist John Dickerson.
"Perry made his threat publicly and then followed through on his word," Dickerson wrote. "If any primary opponent wants to raise this issue, perhaps by saying Perry tried to eliminate an investigation into his personal integrity, Perry need only repeat a few highlights from Lehmberg’s arrest and explain why he thought that didn’t make her fit for the job."
Dickerson said Perry will appear as a 14-year "governor taking charge" rather than "a bumbling debate participant for a few short months in 2012."
Perry ran in the GOP primary in 2012, but the nomination ultimately went to Mitt Romney, who lost in the general election to President Barack Obama.
Texas A&M presidential studies expert George Edwards III told the Journal that Perry only needs to reference old-school politics when defending his actions.
"His first line of defense will be that this is all politics and I didn't break any laws," Edwards said.
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