Add the New York Times editorial board to the growing list of constitutional scholars, journalists, and political operatives who find the curious indictment against Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) to be a farce. The board doesn’t go as far as defending his tenure or his policies (in fact, they do the opposite) but they do nevertheless feel as if he is the victim of an “overzealous prosecution”:
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.
For more than a year, Mr. Perry has been seeking the resignation of the Travis County district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg. He had good reason to do so: Ms. Lehmberg was arrested in April 2013 for driving with a blood alcohol level of more than three times the legal limit, and she verbally abused the officers who found her with an open bottle of vodka. She ranted and raved at the local jail, threatening sheriff’s deputies, and she had to be restrained in a chair with a hood over her head. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail. In addition to endangering people’s lives, she instantly lost her credibility as a prosecutor of drunken-driving cases.
Yes, one wonders how the county’s district attorney -- who herself served time for drunk driving -- can reasonably be expected to effectively prosecute other loaded drivers. Meanwhile, her refusal to resign after overtures from the governor's delegates prompted the whole lawsuit in the first place. Now it’s no secret that Perry tried to entice her to resign the only way he knew how (cutting funding to her department) but did he also break the law? Even the NYT editorial board doesn’t think so:
But his ill-advised veto still doesn’t seem to rise to the level of a criminal act. After a complaint was filed by a liberal group, a judge appointed a special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, a San Antonio lawyer and former federal prosecutor, to take the case. A Travis County grand jury indicted Mr. Perry on two felony counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. The indictment says he exceeded his veto power by combining it with a threat to Ms. Lehmberg if she didn’t quit.
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. Perhaps Mr. McCrum will have some solid proof to show once the case heads to trial. But, for now, Texas voters should be more furious at Mr. Perry for refusing to expand Medicaid, and for all the favors he has done for big donors, than for a budget veto.
In other words, there’s no evidence at present that suggests Perry is guilty of criminal wrongdoing. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t. Still, as former Clinton advisor Lanny Davis argues in a recent Newsweek op-ed, the indictment itself doesn’t really mean a whole lot:
It is even more outrageous to anyone who cares about due process and civil liberties to read the comments from local and state Democrats in the state Texas Democratic Party about the Perry indictment. Most of the comments I read used language of guilt or a presumption of wrongdoing because of the fact of the indictment. …
In fact, an indictment is evidence of nothing. It is literally just an accusation, not even close to proven facts. Yet I read some Texas Democrats calling for Perry to resign — resign!
These cannot be Democrats who care about civil liberties or due process, much less the credibility of our party, which has always denounced those who presume guilt or even suggest wrongdoing after an indictment alone.
In my opinion, silence by Democrats about the Perry indictment and Democratic comments rushing to assume wrongdoing isn't acceptable.
Indeed, calls for Perry to resign are misplaced and premature at this point in time – as even prominent Democrats (and the New York Times editorial board) are more than willing to concede.