Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, was indicted by a county grand jury for abuse of power, after threatening to cut off state funding to a public corruption unit unless the district attorney in charge of it resigned. Perry had pushed for the removal of DA Rosemary Lehmberg after her arrest for drunk driving.
The indictment predictably made the front of Saturday's New York Times, in the prominent off-lead story slot, under a slanted deck of headlines: "Texas Governor Indicted in Case Alleging Abuses --Vetoing a Foe's Funding -- Charges Against Perry Interrupt Presidential Ambitions." According to the Times, the politically motivated indictment is a "major roadblock" and a "stunning rebuke" that "threaten[s] to tarnish his legacy."
Reporter Manny Fernandez found the indictment a significant blow to Perry's presidential prospects.
A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts on Friday, charging that he abused his power last year when he tried to pressure the district attorney here, a Democrat, to step down by threatening to cut off state financing to her office.
The indictment left Mr. Perry, a Republican, the first Texas governor in nearly 100 years to face criminal charges and presented a major roadblock to his presidential ambitions at the very time that he had been showing signs of making a comeback.
The Washington Post's own front-page piece was sedate by comparison, and unlike the Times provided some useful historical context of how vengeful Democrats have in the past used tissue-thin, politically motivated indictments to harass successful Republican politicians:
The Travis County district attorney’s office has a tense history with Republican politicians in Texas and has been accused of politicization....Lehmberg’s predecessor, Ronnie Earle, indicted then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) for allegedly misusing state resources when she was the state treasurer. The prosecution crumbled on the first day of trial. Earle also brought a case against then-House whip Tom DeLay (R), for violations of Texas campaign finance laws. The conviction was overturned.
Fernandez wrote for the Times:
The indictment could mar the legacy of Mr. Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, as his tenure nears an end.
According to the state comptroller’s website, the governor’s office has paid his lawyer, Mr. Botsford, nearly $80,000 since June. Legal experts said that other state officials who have been accused of crimes relating to their duties have had to pay for their own defense, and this was one of the first times Texas taxpayers were paying the bill.
Fernandez teamed with Jonathan Martin for a follow-up Saturday afternoon that will likely make it into Sunday's print edition. The headline ("Amid Debate Over Who Overstepped, Perry Calls Indictment a 'Farce'") split the difference between Perry and his Democratic enemies, although even prominent Democrats like former Obama advisor David Axelrod have found the indictment sketchy.
The Times sounded offended that Perry relayed accurate facts about the drunk-driving DA:
Mr. Perry was unsparing about [Lehmberg], saying she had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit. “Americans and Texans who have seen this agree with me,” he said.
Actually, that's not just something Perry was "saying" about Lehmberg, whose blood-alcohol level was indeed clocked at .239, three times the legal limit of.08.
The Times is already assuming (hoping?) that the dubious charges will damage Perry's political fortunes, and piled on the melodrama, including a Shakespearian reference.
The indictment on Friday marked a change in fortunes for a man who has been an unrivaled power in Texas. Throughout his nearly 14 years as governor of Texas, Mr. Perry has filled every position on every board and commission in the state. That amounts to thousands of appointments, from the most obscure positions on the Texas Funeral Service Commission to more influential posts on university boards of regents, all of them loyal to some degree to one of the longest-serving governors in American history and one of the most powerful ever in Texas.
But there were two things he did not control. The first was the prosecutor’s office here in the state capital. The second was the 12 seats on the grand jury investigating what critics said was his attempt to force out Ms. Lehmberg and shut down a potentially damaging investigation into a medical research institute that has been one of Mr. Perry’s favorite avenues for grants and jobs.
On Friday, like a plot out of Shakespeare, Mr. Perry’s attempt to control one of the few things of substance in the state that was out of his reach led to two felony charges that threaten to tarnish his legacy and derail his hopes for a second presidential run.
It was a stunning rebuke to Mr. Perry. But it also set in motion a battle of competing narratives over just what kind of overreach the indictment reflects. Democrats say the charges describe the arrogant overreach of a governor with unchecked power. Republicans took up Mr. Perry’s argument on Saturday that the excess was in the investigation and indictment themselves, which they describe as political in nature and extremely dubious in legality.
After briefly dabbling with Republican arguments, the Times pivoted back to speculation on just how damaging the indictment could be for Perry.
Even if the legal consequences of the case ultimately do not amount to much, the indictment comes at an inopportune time for Mr. Perry....The indictment’s more fundamental challenge to Mr. Perry is that it could serve as an unwanted distraction from his well-choreographed comeback plan. Should he become a threat in the 2016 primary, his opponents will almost certainly use the case against him with mailers and TV ads.
And the Times can be relied upon to keep the story alive as long as possible.