Politics as usual should not be a violation of criminal law. This ought to be obvious to anyone in a democratic society. But it does not seem to be well understood in Texas, where a special prosecutor in Austin persuaded a grand jury last week to indict Gov. Rick Perry, who was booked and fingerprinted on Tuesday.
Perry, a once and potential future candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has been charged with misusing his office and coercing a public official. Sounds serious, until you look at the flimsy, two-page indictment.
Perry’s alleged offense? That he demanded the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated, then vetoed funding for a state public integrity unit that her office relies upon after she refused to step down.
The case rests on a highly dubious legal argument: Perry can exercise his rights of free speech to seek Lehmberg’s resignation, and he can exercise his power of the line-item veto over use of state funds. But, supposedly, he can’t do them in tandem.
This bid to criminalize politics will undermine more legitimate cases against public officials. One can easily imagine other politicians saying they, too, are being prosecuted just for doing their jobs, even when the charges against them are much stronger.
Perry’s actions were classic hardball politics. Travis County includes the state capital, Austin, so its district attorney largely controls the state’s public integrity prosecutions. That power has been used to mount cases against GOP politicians, including former U.S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and former House majority leader Tom DeLay.
Read More at – WaPo – Flimsy Indictment