Perry investigation is no 'Bridgegate'

John Dickerson:
The story of Perry’s legal imbroglio doesn’t start with him, but with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. A year ago she was found in a church parking lot after police received a report about a driver weaving on the road. She was sharing the company of an open bottle of vodka and was given a sobriety test. Her blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit. “Don’t you know who I am?” she asked the officers. She also asked them to contact Sheriff Greg Hamilton, between tantrums of kicking the jailhouse door, presumably because she thought Hamilton would get her out of the embarrassing jam.

Ultimately, Lehmberg pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail, which she served.

Republicans called for Lehmberg to resign. She refused. The governor said that if she did not resign, he would veto $7.5 million in state funding for the Public Integrity Unit that she oversees. She didn’t budge, and Perry made good on the threat.

A watchdog group filed a complaint charging that Perry’s veto was an abuse of power. A judge agreed there was enough evidence to appoint a special prosecutor, who is looking into whether Perry tried to coerce a public servant and abused his power. The legal questions involve not only the veto but the public threat that preceded it.

In Christie’s case, when people think about the bridge shutdown, they can imagine their own frustration in traffic. With the Perry story, it’s the dangerous and outrageous behavior of the drunken district attorney, which happens to also be on video, that captures the imagination. Unlike in New Jersey, where the governor’s aides secretly used their power to punish a petty infraction, Perry made his threat publicly and then followed through on his word.

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. It’s a compelling cinematic story; Perry just has to hope that the special prosecutor doesn’t come up with a better one.
I don't know what the judge was thinking when he referred this mess to a grand jury.  I think the governor did the right thing in trying to rid Travis County of someone who appeared unfit for the office she held.


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