The case stems from Perry’s vetoing the $7.5 million biennial funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit last year. He threatened to withhold the money unless District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resigned.
Perry made it clear in public and through emissaries that he didn’t believe the state should fund an office headed by someone who had lost the public’s trust. He pointed to Lehmberg’s April 2013 arrest for drunk driving, which included her video-taped, belligerent conduct while being booked into the jail.
At the time, the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes public corruption and malfeasance, was examining one of Perry’s signature projects. If Lehmberg had resigned, Perry would have appointed her replacement.
Lehmberg, who had pleaded guilty, fulfilled her 45-day sentence and completed a treatment program, refused to resign. Perry vetoed the money.
A special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, was appointed to look into the case and the current grand jury has been studying the charges since April.
At issue was whether Perry was simply playing typical political hardball or whether he crossed a line by threatening a public official to take an action – resigning – by which he might benefit.
The grand jury was looking at potentially three state statutes: whether the longtime Republican governor tried to bribe a public official into stepping down; if he abused his position by misusing public funding “to obtain a benefit”; and whether he tried to coerce Lehmberg into taking “a specific performance of [her] official duty.”
Perry’s office has defended his actions, saying he exercised his constitutional authority to veto appropriations.
A half-dozen Perry staff members have appeared before the grand jury, including his budget expert, legislative liaison, deputy communications director and criminal justice adviser.