WASHINGTON, August 19, 2014 — Due to a judicial scheduling conflict, Texas District Judge Burt Richardson on Monday revised the arraignment date for Gov. Rick Perry from August 29 to August 22. Perry is not required under Texas law to attend the hearing, though he may choose to do so.
The Travis County District Court confirmed that a summons was issued rather than an arrest warrant. This has raised claims of favoritism, but Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor leading the case against Perry, pointed out that this is not unusual and that Perry is clearly not a flight risk. It is also likely that the issuance of an arrest warrant would be seen as political grandstanding, which at this point McCrum would prefer to avoid.
The Austin American Statesman reports that a judge has granted Perry a personal recognizance bond. He will have to pay only $20 when he surrenders to the Travis County Jail. The prosecutor and Perry’s attorney agreed that a personal bond was appropriate. That means that Perry’s “walk-through,” or booking can be set, though he may not be required to appear for fingerprinting and a mugshot any time soon.
Update: August 20 — Governor Perry turned himself in this morning, was fingerprinted and had his mugshot taken. He removed his glasses and smiled for the camera, then told supporters, “The actions that I took were lawful, they were legal and they were proper.”
Perry’s legal team, led by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, has said that the indictments against Perry stem from “banana republic politics.” Perry was indicted Friday, after a liberal organization, Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint against him. Perry demanded that Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg step down after her conviction and jail time for drunk driving, or he would veto funds for the Public Integrity Unit run from her office.
Perry followed through on that threat, leading TPJ director Craig McDonald to file a complaint accusing Perry of coercion and abuse of power.
The question absorbing political pundits is whether the indictments against him will harm Perry if he runs for the White House in 2016. Some argue that the word “indictment” is toxic and will harm Perry, while other argue that trying to force a drunk out of a position of responsibility is a winning position for Perry.
Regardless of the political consequences, there is wide agreement that it is unlikely that Perry will be convicted. The prosecution must prove that Perry’s veto was based on criminal motives, not political motives. Executives often threaten the use of the veto to change behavior; vetoes are rarely issued without a prior threat, so Perry’s threatened veto is not per se an act of coercion.
As Perry’s team will argue, the threat to do something legal is not a crime. Unless the prosecution can prove that Perry’s stated reason for making the threat was not his real reason, the threat can’t be considered a crime.
Democrat Paul Coggins, President Clinton’s appointee as U.S. attorney for Texas’ Northern District observed in the Dallas News, “My general reaction? Troubling. The linchpin of public corruption cases has always been whether the official has done something covertly.” Perry’s threat was highly public, delivered through the media.
Another former U.S. attorney, Matthew Orwig, agreed. ““It does not seem to have been a very good exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” said Orwig, a Republican. “It seems very much to be driven by wanting to punish political conduct.”
David Axelrod, a former strategist for President Obama, tweeted, “”Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy.” Jonathan Prince, another former Obama insider wrote, “Gov has constitutional power to veto. Gov uses power. Grand jury indicts bc they don’t like reason?”
The New York Times editorial board, not a bastion of Perry support, observed in an editorial, “Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is one of the least thoughtful and most damaging state leaders in America, having done great harm to immigrants, abortion clinics and people without health insurance during his 14 years in office. But bad political judgment is not necessarily a felony, and the indictment handed up against him on Friday — given the facts so far — appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution.”
The editorial concludes, “Governors and presidents threaten vetoes and engage in horse-trading all the time to get what they want, but for that kind of political activity to become criminal requires far more evidence than has been revealed in the Perry case so far.”
Not everyone thinks the charges are thin or a joke. Craig McDonald said, “These two indictments are for abuse of his office and for using his office to coerce a public official. Those are crimes above the normal felony if you’re the governor. We should not let him back into the State Capitol.”
Perry has announced that he will continue his planned schedule, and he has no intention of resigning. Unless the prosecutor has a better case than has appeared so far, there seems little reason for this case even to go to trial. If it does, however, it will be interesting to see whether a Travis County jury will be as unpredictable as a Travis County DA and a Travis County grand jury.