The scripted brouhaha over the indictment of Rick Perry last week has shed little light on the background of the case being brought against him. The case itself amounts to an attempt to criminalize the decisions made under executive authority. The highly partisan, Soros-funded 501(c)(4) group Texans for Public Justice, which sought the indictment, has appointed itself the bane of Texas Republicans, and is in no way to be trusted to have an impartial interest in either justice or the welfare of Texas.
Interestingly, Obama lieutenant David Axelrod – hardly a Perry partisan – said on Saturday that the indictment seems “sketchy”:
“Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy,” Axelrod tweeted.
The basic facts are well known at this point. Perry urged the district attorney of Travis County (where the state capital of Austin is located) to resign in 2013, after she pleaded guilty to a 12 April 2013 DWI and served 22 days of a 45-day sentence in jail. Even without all the sordid background of DA Rosemary Lehmberg’s case, Perry’s action can hardly be considered unjustified. Two other Texas prosecutors have resigned promptly over DWIs in the last decade: an assistant DA in Brazoria County in October 2013, and an assistant DA in Travis County in 2004 (see “Mack Martinez” at the link).
Does Texas have a constitutional right to defy Supreme Court on protecting its border?
When Lehmberg refused to resign, Perry decided to veto state funding for a prosecutorial department of the Travis County DA’s office known as the Public Integrity Unit. The PIU’s function is to go after ethics and other complaints against state lawmakers and public officials. Perry’s justification was that the state shouldn’t fund this operation under Lehmberg’s tenure, given her failure to live up to an appropriate ethical standard in her own conduct.
He did this entirely in the open, incidentally. No secret was made of his position or executive actions in the matter. Argue amongst yourselves whether his actions constituted overstepping the bounds of executive authority, or behaving improperly. Barack Obama certainly wouldn’t say so, if his record is any indication. He has frequently withheld or threatened to withhold federal funding, not only for purely political reasons but over unprosecuted or non-prosecutable actions of fundees that his agencies just don’t like. See here, here, here, and here, for example.
The Texans for Public Justice group filed a complaint over Perry’s action in June 2013, and has finally gotten a grand jury to indict Perry on two counts. Part of the delay in getting the indictment was the need to move the venue to Bexar County, given that the authorities of Travis County – including most obviously DA Lehmberg – had to recuse themselves.
So much for the superficial facts of the case. It’s the rest of the story that matters. Know first of all that Texans for Public Justice is a group that worked hand in glove with infamous Travis County DA Ronnie Earle from 2003 to 2005 to indict former Republican Congressman Tom DeLay, no matter how many grand juries it took to get it done. (The final count was three. DeLay was fully acquitted by an appeals court in September 2013, which cited insufficient evidence and improper instructions to the jury in his original trial.)
It was, naturally enough, the Public Integrity Unit that was used to go after DeLay.
Soros attack squad
There’s no thread here that doesn’t pay off with a jackpot if you pursue it, so we’ll take them one by one. First, Texans for Public Justice was founded in 1997 by Craig McDonald, whose biography at this site touts his early association with the Alinsky community-organizing model.
Mr. McDonald has been involved in civic life at the local, federal and state level. His career began as a local community organizer in the Alinsky model for the John Ball Park Community Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He next worked in the 1980s as Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, arguing for stronger health, safety and environmental protection, an end to corporate subsidies, and improved access to the courts. During this same 15-year period in Washington, he was also the co-director of the non-profit, Center for a New Democracy, which advocated for campaign reform and ballot access.
McDonald still runs TPJ and signed the 2013 complaint against Perry. Public Citizen, of course, is the group founded by Ralph Nader in 1971, and it has been awash in funding from George Soros’s Tides Foundation and Open Society Institute since they began handing out cash. Center for a New Democracy is also Soros-funded, as is TPJ.
McDonald has been after Perry for years; Bryan Preston had a good summary of TPJ’s connections and shenanigans at PJM in 2011. So did Marc Thiessen at the Washington Post, for that matter. TPJ went after Catherine Engelbrecht, True the Vote, and the King Street Patriots in 2010. TPJ is a major player in the Soros network of activist groups trying to (among other things) “turn Texas blue.”
But what about the Public Integrity Unit? Is that a fine, high-minded Texas institution of longstanding, with stores of public respect to call on?
Alert readers may have frowned a little on hearing that it operates against state officials out of the Travis County DA’s office. That’s a little weird. Shouldn’t a state agency pursue state officials for ethics complaints that arise because of their actions in public office?
Texas’s own county-controlled, statewide political attack squad
Funny you should ask. The PIU goes all the way back to 1982, as a state-funded but county-controlled entity, and was created by Ronnie Earle, king of the ham-sandwich indicters. He was the Travis County DA at the time, and was able to secure state funding, for what is in every way a county operation, from a heavily Democrat-controlled legislature. (The governor at the time was Republican Bill Clements, the first Republican to be elected to the office since Reconstruction.)
As an Esquire puff piece from 2005 tells it, Earle created the PIU after a colorful episode in which he prosecuted Texas State Comptroller Bob Bullock (a Democrat) for “expense-report shenanigans,” and a gun-wielding Bullock threatened him in a local bar.
According to Earle himself, the grand jury never indicted Bullock. Moreover – just coincidentally, I’m sure – Earle went after Bullock at a time when Bullock was blocking Earle’s proposal to have the state legislature fund the PIU. Once the grand jury returned a no-bill and Earle dropped the case, Bullock dropped his objection to the PIU proposal.
The PIU was actually created earlier, however. Its origin lay in the “Sharpstown scandal” of the early 1970s, a stock-fraud scandal reportedly involving the “highest levels” of state government. Earle created the PIU within the DA’s office during the tenure of Democratic governor Dolph Briscoe (1973-79), whose rise to the office was due in part to his lack of taint from Sharpstown.
The history is recounted by Jan Reid in her biography of Texas Democrat Ann Richards, who served as state treasurer from 1983-91, and governor from 1991-95. (See this excerpt from Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012.)
If you’re not laughing yet at the word “integrity” being slung around like confetti at a political convention, consider this assessment from Reid – a friendly biographer:
In large part, Ann owed her election in 1982 to the Public Integrity Unit’s takedown of [rival] Warren Harding [the incumbent state treasurer].
And Earle did get an indictment on two third-degree felonies in the Harding case (Harding, a Democrat, was no relation to the U.S. president of the same name). The substance of the charges was that on two days in December of 1981 and January 1982, Harding had asked a state employee to do campaign-related work for him on state time.
The case never went to trial, however, as Harding pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor. He finished out his term, but retired from politics afterward. From the beginning, Ronnie Earle’s use of the PIU has thus had mainly political consequences.
The PIU is a nice little tool in the hands of Democrats, because as long as Travis County is voting on its district attorneys, the Democratic stronghold will always put Democrats in charge of the PIU. Had there been any foreseeable possibility of a Republican getting elected DA of Travis County, we can safely bet that neither Ronnie Earle nor the Democrats in the Texas legislature would have countenanced the creation of the PIU to prosecute state officeholders. Republicans, for their part, have long argued that the function performed by the PIU properly belongs with a state agency.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, when Democrats had held the legislature for many decades, the PIU was a sweet method for wielding power over fellow Democrats – and that was the target pool Earle went after. But in the ‘80s, after the Reagan revolution swept the land and gave Republicans a new lease on life in the Lone Star State, the GOP began making inroads in the state legislature, and started knocking off Democrats in the national races as well. So in 1993, Earle used the PIU to go after his first Republican target, newly elected U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
This summary from Wikipedia needs no embellishment:
On June 10, 1993, shortly after the special election victory, Travis County authorities, led by Democratic district attorney Ronnie Earle, raided Hutchison’s offices at the State Treasury. The search was conducted without a warrant, as incident to service of the indictments in the case. Subsequently, after two other grand jury indictments were thrown out, Hutchison was indicted a 3rd time by a Texas grand jury in September 1993 for official misconduct and records tampering. Hutchison stated that she was the innocent victim of a politically motivated prosecutor. Earle acknowledged that he had sought appointment by Democratic Governor Ann Richards, to the same U.S. Senate seat which Hutchison was ultimately elected to, but he has denied that his legal actions against Hutchison were politically motivated. The case against Hutchison was heard before State District Judge John Onion in February 1994. Pre-trial motions included a Motion to Quash evidence Earle obtained without a warrant when raiding the Treasurer’s office. During pre-trial proceedings, the judge did not rule on admissibility. Following the lack of a ruling, Earle declined to proceed with his case. Onion swore in a jury and directed the jury to acquit Hutchison, since Earle chose not to present evidence. The acquittal barred any future prosecution of Hutchison.
At no time has the PIU ever operated as an honestly-intentioned “integrity watchdog.” If we want to go by “appearances of impropriety,” the PIU itself should probably be in the Guinness Book of Records. Sanctimonious complaints that Rick Perry is interfering with the use of the PIU by a DA who herself broke the law are the height of hypocrisy.
We can point out in passing that the whole Ronnie Earle attack scenario against Tom DeLay in the mid-2000s merely emphasized the ties of Earle, the PIU, TPJ, and third parties like Ann Richards to George Soros and his “turn Texas blue” machine. (Andrew McCarthy took the time in 2005 to document the ethical shortcomings of Earle himself, who groomed Rosemary Lehmberg for the DA job.)
We can also point out that TPJ was formed in 1997, which just happened to be when Republicans were in the middle of taking over the state legislature (Republicans took the senate in 1996, and won the house in 2002), and George W. Bush had succeeded – in 1995 – in replacing Ann Richards as governor.
The A Team
But let’s move on to round out the picture of who is wielding the justice system against Perry. Besides TPJ, which filed the complaint, the substantive actions in the case have involved a state district judge in Bexar County, and a special prosecutor, who was appointed by the judge to investigate the complaint.
The state judge looks clean from here. The special prosecutor has his own problems, however. He was appointed to investigate Perry in August of 2013. In January 2014, he was charged with contempt in a separate criminal case in Bexar County for which he was the defense attorney. Michael McCrum had allegedly told a witness that she should “get lost for a while” to avoid testifying; apparently, this charge was brought by the county after McCrum also implied misconduct on the part of the prosecutor in discussions he (McCrum) had with witnesses in the case.
An appeals court halted the proceedings against McCrum temporarily in February, on the basis that the jurisdiction of the trial court over the underlying criminal case, in which McCrum had represented the defendant, had expired. (See here as well.) The county sought an appeal of that ruling; I was unable to find an update on the status of this case online.
Oh, and McCrum was nominated by President Obama to a U.S. attorney position in west Texas, but withdrew his name after a 9-month period of inaction on his nomination.
But wait! There’s more. Sympathetic Texas media have been carrying the Democrats’ water, retailing the theme that Perry cut funding to the PIU in 2013 as a way to block its investigation and prosecution of Jerry Cobbs, a former executive at the state-funded Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). (Cobbs was indicted on one count in December 2013 – other CPRIT-related complaints pursued by the PIU were no-billed by grand juries – and is expected to go to trial sometime in 2015. For what it’s worth, he’s not taking a plea.)
The media have also been lumping a PIU investigation of Republican Ken Paxton, candidate for attorney general, in with the CPRIT/Cobbs investigation, to flesh out the theme about Perry’s motive for vetoing the PIU funding. Perry could hardly have had that as a motive in 2013, however, since TPJ didn’t file a complaint against Paxton with the PIU until 25 July 2014 – after the grand jury was convened to hear the case against Perry in April.
Oddly enough, complaints in the two PIU cases most often cited by the media – the Cobbs and Paxton cases – were both brought by Soros-connected groups. TPJ filed the Paxton complaint. The complaint against CPRIT that resulted in the Cobbs indictment was filed by Progress Texas PAC, which is funded through its parent group Progress Now by the Open Society Institute and the Tides Foundation.
Meanwhile, citizens of Travis County were bemused in August 2013, when assistant DA Brandon Grunewald was arrested for DWI after being involved in a traffic accident. Two DWIs for county prosecutors in one year seems like kind of a lot. Grunewald wasn’t just any prosecutor; he was in charge of prosecuting felony DWIs.
But perhaps the most cynicism-inducing feature of this latter event was the response by his boss, veteran drunk driver Rosemary Lehmberg, who issued a statement that it wasn’t the usual practice of her office to dismiss a prosecutor for his first DWI violation. Let’s blow right past the ethics implied in that policy for a district attorney’s office, to ponder the fact – quickly unearthed by the local media – that two Travis County prosecutors (Frank Dixon and Cynthia Bell) had in fact been dismissed on Lehmberg’s watch for their first DWI violations.
What’s the abbreviation used on social media? “FFS”?
Rick Perry looks like the sane one here
This three-ring circus is the chorus of jackals putting on the “public integrity” histrionics in a bid to take down Governor Rick Perry. (And there’s quite a bit of additional color that we don’t even have room for in this piece.) The move against him certainly looks political, bearing no resemblance to an honest campaign for public integrity. It can be justifiably seen, in any case, as an attempt to criminalize executive policy decisions – something neither Democrats nor Republicans should have held over them when they serve in executive office.
Besides the Soros-backed “turn Texas blue” machine and its aspirations, there’s one other motive on which this whole case hinges. It’s that of Rosemary Lehmberg and other Texas Democrats who have supported her in refusing to step down, in spite of her very clear ethical conflict. The motive is formulated nicely at this popular left-wing website (h/t: RemoveRosemaryLehmberg):
In the debate about whether or not Rosemary Lehmberg should resign, what’s really at stake is whether the entire state of Texas can afford to let Rick Perry control the office of Travis County DA. Given Perry’s history and the unique faculties of the office, the answer is clear: Lehmberg needs to stay. …
Those calling on Lehmberg to resign need to recognize the severity of handing the Public Integrity Unit and the environmental prosecution division over to a Perry crony whose attitude on everything from pre-trial release to the death penalty is likely to be out of touch with Austin’s progressive community values.