Texas Governor Rick Perry asked a judge to throw out his public corruption indictment immediately, claiming the case is a political attack that should be barred on constitutional grounds.
Perry called the felony abuse-of-office allegations an assault on the state’s separation of powers, according to papers filed today in Austin state court. Perry, a Republican and potential candidate for president in 2016, said his authority to veto legislation or spending measures is his right as governor, and “the key limitation” on the state legislature.
“Subjecting any sitting governor to a criminal prosecution and injecting the judiciary into a political dispute would be an unprecedented assault on this cherished separation of powers,” Perry’s lawyers said in the 60-page filing.
Perry’s defense team has been challenging the Aug. 15 indictment in a Texas courthouse while the governor traveled to New Hampshire, home of the nation’s earliest party primaries. With the 2016 campaign looming in the background of this November’s mid-term elections, political observers said Perry is moving aggressively to dispose of the state prosecution.
“He needs to get this thing thrown out fast,” Richard Murray, a University of Houston political science professor, said in a telephone interview. “He needs to get this resolved between now and November. He only has about 70 days” before it becomes a potentially fatal drag on his presidential ambitions, Murray said.
“If this goes to trial, it ends his presidential bid,” Calvin Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said in a phone interview. “Those details of what went on will all come out” at trial, potentially alienating voters who’d rallied to Perry when they thought he was being unjustly prosecuted, Jillson said.
Perry, 64, is accused of abusing his authority by cutting the funding of a statewide public integrity agency in retaliation against its prosecutor, a Democrat, who refused to step down.
The governor has argued that he was within his rights as governor because the impaired judgment of the prosecutor, Rosemary Lehmberg, as evidenced by belligerent behavior during a drunk-driving arrest, justified his decision to seek her resignation.
Perry’s political opponents claim he targeted Lehmberg as part of a plan to get rid of the ethics unit. The office had been probing a state cancer-research program he championed, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which had been criticized for sending state funds to Republican donors.
An official at that agency was indicted for mishandling funds last year. A senior investigator with that task force, however, filed a sworn statement that Perry wasn’t involved in any wrongdoing related to that probe.
Special prosecutor Michael McCrum, who was brought in to lead the Perry investigation, declined in an e-mail today to comment on the governor’s filing, saying he will respond “in several weeks” with his own court papers.
“These accusations of political motivation are ridiculous and without any factual basis,” McCrum said last week. “The evidence supports the criminal charges.”
Perry’s lawyers told Texas Judge Bert Richardson, who was appointed to preside over Perry’s case, that the Texas Constitution already establishes checks on the governor’s veto power, that don’t require intervention by courts and prosecutors. Lawmakers can override a veto or remove the governor from office, or voters can defeat him at the next election, they said.
“Allowing a criminal prosecution of a political decision where there is no allegation of bribery or demonstrable corruption undermines the basic structure of state government,” Perry’s lawyers said in today’s filing.
The case is State of Texas v. Perry, D1DC14-100139, 390th Judicial District Court of Travis County, Texas (Austin).