NEW YORK – Speaking from experience, former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told WND Monday he tried to warn Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the state GOP that the Travis County district attorney’s office would likely get a criminal indictment against him.
It was the same office that got a grand jury indictment against DeLay for alleged campaign finance violations in 2005, forcing him under Republican Caucus rules to resign as majority leader.
“I warned Perry and others in Texas, and every time GOP officials in Texas try to reform the Travis County district attorney’s office, they are first intimidated by this office, and then they are intimidated by the left-leaning media in Austin,” DeLay told WND.
Perry, a 2012 Republican presidential candidate and a possible 2016 hopeful, was indicted Friday by a Travis County grand jury on two felony counts of abusing his power as governor. The indictments stem from Perry’s threat to withhold $7.5 million in state funding from the state public integrity unit operated by the Travis County district attorney’s office unless DA Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, resigned her elected post. Perry’s move was a response to Lehmberg’s drunken-driving charge and belligerent conduct when she was arrested. The openly lesbian Lehmberg was endorsed by the Austin American-Statesman editorial board and the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund in Texas when she ran for district attorney in 2008.
When Lehmberg was arrested, police officers were forced to restrain her, and she was found to be intoxicated at nearly three times the legal limit.
If convicted, Perry could spend life in prison. But he declared Monday in a Fox News interview: “If I had to do it again, I would make exactly the same decision.”
In the WND interview, DeLay, whose conviction was overturned last year, called Lehmberg “a partisan, very liberal Democratic Party operative much as was her predecessor Ronnie Earle, the Travis County district attorney who brought a criminal indictment against me on trumped up campaign finance laws.”
Charging the Travis County district attorney’s office operates in a “highly unconstitutional” manner that “violates the rule of ‘one-man, one-vote,’” DeLay explained a locally elected DA is operating a public integrity unit that asserts statewide jurisdiction to prosecute politicians.
DeLay noted Perry is fighting back, but concluded “if he cannot get a motion to change the venue from Travis County, it does not look good for him.”
He won’t have a sympathetic judge and jury in the county, Delay argued.
“Austin is extremely liberal. You’ve got to remember the Democrats’ motto in Austin is ‘Keep It Weird.’ And that’s exactly how Lehmberg is proceeding against Perry,” he said.
A prominent Democrat, however, has risen to Perry’s defense.
In a column for The Hill, Lanny Davis, former special counsel to President Bill Clinton, chastised fellow Democrats, calling it “a perversion of the criminal justice system, a classic case of prosecutorial abuse, to indict Perry as a way of deciding the wisdom of his veto.”
“Voters should decide that, not a prosecutor,” he said.
“In my opinion, silence by Democrats about the Perry indictment and Democratic comments rushing to assume wrongdoing isn’t acceptable,” Davis said. “If a Republican prosecutor had obtained this indictment against a sitting Democratic governor, and Republican partisans rushed to imply wrongdoing, much less guilt as a result of an indictment before trial, is there any doubt we Democrats would be publicly outraged?”
DeLay contended that by appointing a special prosecutor, who convinced a Travis County grand jury to bring criminal charges against Perry, Lehmberg is on a personal vendetta to destroy Perry’s political career, much as former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle sought to destroy his own career.
Lehmberg pleaded guilty in April 2013 to driving while intoxicated and was taken off to jail in handcuffs immediately after sentencing to serve a 45-day sentence that came with a $4,000 fine.
Subsequent investigations found that in the 15-month period from January 2012 to April 2013, Lehmberg made 59 purchases of alcohol at the rate of one purchase a week. Her usual purchase was a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka priced at $60.
Lehmberg is shown on video yelling and insulting officers, blaming them for allegedly seeking to ruin her political career.
With her belligerent behavior continuing at the jailhouse the night of her arrest, police officers restrained her with leg irons, strapping her to a chair and putting on a “spit mask” to prevent her from spitting or biting.
After her guilty plea, Perry, among other Texas state officials, sought Lehmberg’s resignation, charging she was not competent to continue as Travis County district attorney.
Perry’s problems began when Lehmberg refused to step down.
The governor ultimately vetoed $7.5 million the Texas state legislature allocated to the Travis County district attorney’s office for the locally elected Travis County district attorney to operate the public integrity unit, which investigates and prosecutes public officials statewide for alleged offenses committed while in office.
“What it comes down to is that Gov. Perry was not going to allow state money to come down to Lehmberg as Travis County district attorney as long as she was going to head up this public integrity unit,” DeLay explained.
DeLay said that after Perry vetoed the use of state funds, Lehmberg relied on county-appropriated funds to continue running the unit.
“Basically, Lehmberg has indicted Gov. Perry for doing his constitutional duty. It’s the same type of thing Ronnie Earle did indicting me for nothing more than raising money to help elect a Republican,” he said.
Perry also insists the veto was within the authority conferred upon his office by the Texas state constitution.
But DeLay warns, regardless how politically motivated Lehmberg might be, that Perry should take the indictment very seriously.
“Gov. Perry seems by his various public statements to think this case is going to pass quickly,” DeLay said. “But I’m living proof the Travis County district attorney’s office can drag this case out as long as they want to drag it out, simply by introducing motions, or thorough appeals, or all sorts of legal manipulations.”
DeLay stressed that in Travis County even the judges tend to be Democrats.
“So, no matter what judge gets Gov. Perry’s case in Travis County, you can count on that judge being a Democrat,” he said.
DeLay cautioned that Lehmberg’s goal is to drag out Perry’s prosecution to destroy any chances he may have of becoming the GOP presidential nominee in 2016.
“Perry also better take seriously the possibility he might get convicted in Travis County,” DeLay said. “There is no way in Travis County that Perry is going to get a fair jury of his peers. I had a panel of over 300 prospective jurors in my criminal trial in Travis County, and the system is such that there is no way to avoid a jury made up entirely of leftist Democrats.”
Delay insisted that just being indicted clouds Perry’s political future as his term as Texas governor concludes at the end of the year.
“All the Travis County district attorney cares about right now is getting the indictment,” DeLay said.
He added that Perry “can also count on the media being partisan Democrat.”
“Particularly in Austin, Texas, the Austin American Statesman is a newspaper that intimidates the judges, because the judges are Democrats elected in Travis County, and they want to do the ‘right thing,’ because they don’t want bad articles being printed in the Austin American Statesman that risks their re-election.”
DeLay said that in his case, Earle knew that once he had an indictment, “the Republicans in House stupidly have this rule that effectively puts the Democrats in charge of who the GOP leaders are.”
“Once I was indicted, the GOP House rules said I had to step aside temporarily as majority leader,” he said. “That’s the only reason the Democrats wanted to indict me. “Convicting me was just icing on the cake. Perry won’t have to resign as governor just because he has been indicted, but the if Lehmberg gets a conviction, Perry’s political career will probably be over.”
DeLay believes the only solution is take statewide authority away from the Travis County district attorney’s office by creating a statewide public integrity unit within the Texas attorney general’s office.
Travis County DA
DeLay said he believes the Travis County district attorney’s office operates in a “highly unconstitutional” manner that “violates the rule of ‘one-man, one-vote.’”
“You have to understand that the Travis County district attorney’s office is a local office such that the Travis County district attorney is locally elected. Yet, the Travis County district attorney asserts statewide jurisdiction, acting under the guise of a ‘Statewide Public Integrity Office” – that’s what the Travis County district attorney’s office is called.”
DeLay explained further: “There was no law passed giving them authority, but a former Travis County district attorney trying to prosecute a political enemy got the Texas state legislature to give them money, convincing the state legislature to appropriate state funds so the Travis County district attorney’s office could operate as this statewide Public Integrity Office.”
DeLay noted the Travis County DA was able to establish its unique statewide authority because it’s the home of the state capital.
“It’s a bastardized way of looking at the law, but in practice what you have is a locally elected district attorney with statewide jurisdiction. And it has been going on for years.”
After Earle retired as Travis County district attorney in January 2009, Lehmberg succeeded him.
DeLay said Lehmberg sought cover in Perry’s case by seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor, Michael McCrum.
“But McCrum is a Democratic Party partisan who worked real hard to be appointed U.S. attorney by Obama, but it didn’t go through,” DeLay said. “But his connections are with the Democratic Party”
DeLay discounted the Travis County district attorney’s office claims that its indictment of Texas Democrats proves it’s non-partisan.
“When Ronnie Earle went after Democrat Party officials, they were his political enemies that he sought to destroy, even though they were Democrats,” DeLay argued.
“For the most part, the Travis County district attorney’s office targets Republicans. They even went after former U.S. senator from Texas Kay Bailey Hutchison, when she was Texas state comptroller. She successfully defended herself and the case collapsed from a botched prosecution by Ronnie Earle. You have to understand that Ronnie Earle was extremely partisan and extremely leftist, and he abused this office for the 30 years that he held the office. Lehmberg is no different.”
DeLay’s conviction was overturned last fall by the Third Court of Appeals in Texas.
On March 19, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed to review the decision in response to an appeal by Lehmberg.