Perry's Presidential Bid Hampered by Tangle Over Texas Corruption Unit

Image: Perry's Presidential Bid Hampered by Tangle Over Texas Corruption Unit

Thursday, 17 Apr 2014 07:18 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry's hopes to capture the 2016 Republican presidential nomination are being overshadowed by a political and legal controversy involving a local district attorney, The New York Times reported.

In April 2013, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, admitted to charges of drunken driving. Among Lehmberg's responsibilities is supervision of the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates political corruption. Travis County includes Austin, the  state capital.

Perry vetoed $7.5 million in state spending for the unit in an effort to pressure Lehmberg to resign. Had she done so, the governor would have appointed her successor. Perry argued that the unit had lost the public's confidence under Lehmberg's stewardship.

The governor's moves against the Public Integrity Unit has become the focus of an investigation by a special state prosecutor. Former federal prosecutor Michael McCrum was appointed by a judge to examine whether Perry might be guilty of abusing his power.

McCrum said, "I cannot elaborate on what exactly is concerning me, but I can tell you that I am very concerned about certain aspects of what happened here. I have not prejudged this. We're still looking into matters to evaluate whether or not a crime has occurred. Governor Perry expects that. The citizenry of Texas expects that. And I intend to look into this as thoroughly as possible," according to the Times.

When Perry blocked funding of the Public Integrity Unit it was in the process of investigating corruption in the publicly funded Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The unit faced allegations of favoritism and mismanagement and a former officer was indicted for mishandling an $11 million grant, the Times reported.

Lehmberg is still the district attorney. County officials have used local funds to keep the Public Integrity Unit operational while cutting the number of employees to about 22 from 35, according to the Times.

Perry is the longest-serving governor in Texas history. He has been campaigning nationally by pointing to his economic accomplishments at home. His 2012 presidential bid failed to gain traction.

Calvin Jillson, author of "Texas Politics: Governing the Lone Star State" told the Times, "This is one of those cases where you're trying to criminalize politics." Perry "thought that he saw a political opponent weakened and that he would tip her over. It was hardball politics, but it was by no means criminal activity."

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