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Grand Jury Investigation of Rick Perry Bribery Case Continues

Rick Perry vetoed funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, the office investigating his donors for corruption. He then attempted to coerce an elected official to resign. His actions are the subject of a criminal complaint - and now a special prosecutor is requesting additional assistance in the investigation. From the Houston Chronicle:

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor named to investigate the complaint that Gov. Rick Perry threatened Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, has filed a motion requesting permission to hire an investigator and research assistant.

Glenn Smith wrote an op-ed in the Austin American Statesman that goes into great detail of the case. His full piece is below.

Smith: Perry’s quest to oust Travis DA crosses a line

If Gov. Rick Perry had called Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and offered her thousands of dollars of his own money to do something that benefited him, it would clearly be bribery. Doesn’t the fact that Perry offered taxpayer money as a bribe make it worse?

It’s been reported that a Travis County grand jury will investigate whether Perry broke the law when he made several offers of money and other benefits to Lehmberg, the DA’s office, and Travis County if she would resign. He offered to restore state funding for the DA’s ethics enforcement department (the Public Integrity Unit).

Perry launched his bribery bid after Lehmberg was convicted of driving while intoxicated. Perry’s moral posing can’t disguise the fact that his actions are nothing more than lawless opportunism.

Perry said publicly said he would veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit unless Lehmberg resigned. He followed through on the threat when she refused. But the bribery didn’t end there. Perry continued to pressure Lehmberg behind the scenes. He’d find a way to restore the unit’s funding if she would just allow Perry to appoint her successor.

The penal code is clear. One cannot offer a benefit to an elected official or the office that official is associated with in return for an official action. Such an offer is bribery. The law is not vague.

Why would Perry break the law so publicly? Lehmberg’s office is investigating multiple scandals involving Perry’s pet Cancer Prevention and Research Institute (CPRIT). A grand jury is investigating the circumstances surrounding the awards of millions in CPRIT grants to Perry cronies. Any indictments stemming from that investigation would embarrass Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Abbott sat on the CPRIT board when the suspect grants were made. His own political contributors received millions of dollars from the cancer agency. My organization (Progress Texas PAC) filed the criminal complaint about CPRIT. When money intended for use in the fight against cancer is instead used to reward political cronies, the fallout could and should be significant. It is a deep betrayal of the public trust. Killing the grand jury investigation would be a top priority of Perry and his would-be successor Abbott.

In addition, gubernatorial control of the state’s ethics enforcement unit through the appointment of the DA would give Perry and future governors unprecedented leverage over political adversaries. Cross the governor and say hello to a grand jury investigation. The separation of powers in our state Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, is intended to protect us from just such threats.

Some may be tempted to see this controversy as just politics as usual. It may be unseemly, but it is so sadly common we can barely lift an eyebrow. Don’t politicians threaten and cajole all the time to get something they want? Look at Washington. The tea party is threatening to destroy the U.S. government and the nation’s economy unless President Obama does what it wants.

As terrifying and unprecedented as that subversion of democracy is, it is not criminal bribery. Perry’s action with regard to Lehmberg is.

The governor has no authority over the office of district attorney. The DA is not part of the state executive branch. Perry’s actions amounted to one branch of government attempting to influence — with promises of money — the actions of another.

Imagine the precedent should Perry escape justice. It will be seen as legal in Texas for a governor to bribe law enforcement officials anywhere in the state. For that matter, a county judge could legally try to kill funding for a district attorney if the latter was pursuing an investigation the county judge doesn’t like.

Power and influence are often used behind the scenes to bend the actions of officials. Argument and arm-twisting are legal. Bribery isn’t. And Perry, publicly, attempted to bribe Rosemary Lehmberg to get what he wanted.

Smith, a former Capitol reporter for the Houston Chronicle and Houston Post, is director of Progress Texas PAC.