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U.S. Opinions: Washington

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Prosecuting politics

From an editorial Tuesday in the Washington Post:

There are many fair grounds on which to criticize Rick Perry’s performance as governor of Texas. But the list does not include the charges newly levied against him by an Austin grand jury.

It’s true that the case revolves around bare-knuckled tactics by Perry. Last year, he threatened to veto $7.5 million in funding for the prosecutorial unit in Austin that investigates public corruption, unless that unit’s boss, an elected Democratic district attorney, resigned. That was bound to be controversial, given that the office was looking into the purported diversion of state cancer research funds to Perry’s political allies. However, the governor acted only after the Travis County district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was caught on video committing a pretty spectacular drunk driving offense.

The grand jury, however, would criminalize Perry’s conduct by twisting the pertinent statutes into a pair of pretzels. The indictment contends that vetoing funding for Lehmberg’s unit violated a Texas “abuse of official capacity” law against the knowing “misuse” of government funds with intent to “harm another.”

Even more implausibly, the indictment characterizes the mere threat of a veto as “coercion of a public servant.” Perry would have been in the clear if he had simply vetoed the funding without threatening to do so first.

Perry is not a candidate for re-election; his term ends in a few months. Perhaps some of those in Texas who back his indictment hope to derail his reported plans for another run at the presidency in 2016. If so, they are going about it the wrong way.

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