August 15, 2014

In Covering Perry Indictment, AP Mischaracterizes Tom Delay Case’s Result, Focuses on Cost of Defending Him

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who, in the oddest of coincidences (that’s sarcasm), just so happens to be considered one of the Republican Party’s stronger potential contenders for the 2016 presidential nomination, was indicted in Austin today by a Travis County grand jury. The charges are “abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant” in connection with a veto “threat” he carried out — thus making “promise” a better word to describe his original stated intentions.

“Threatening” a veto and then carrying through on that “threat” is obviously a pretty routine occurrence in governmental jurisdictions through the country, from the President on down. As to initial press coverage, Paul J. Weber and Will Weissert at the Associated Press predictably misstated the results of another politically motivated prosecution of a major GOP elected official, namely former Congressman Tom “The Hammer” Delay, and focused on how expensive it might be to defend Perry by quoting an hourly legal representation rate which may or may not be accurate. Excerpts follow the jump (bolds are mine):

TEXAS’ PERRY INDICTED FOR COERCION FOR VETO THREAT

RickPerryJuly2013wide

A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for allegedly abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption — making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state’s first indicted governor in nearly a century.

A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit run by the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Lehmberg, a Democrat, was convicted of drunken driving, but refused Perry’s calls to resign.

Though the Republican governor now faces two felony indictments, politics dominates the case. Lehmberg is based in Austin, which is heavily Democratic, in contrast to most of the rest of fiercely conservative Texas. The grand jury was comprised of Austin-area residents.

The unit Lehmberg oversees investigates statewide allegations of corruption and political wrongdoing. It led the investigation against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican who in 2010 was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for taking part in a scheme to influence elections in his home state — convictions later vacated by an appeals court.

Let’s stop there.

In writing that Delay’s convictions were “later vacated,” Weber and Weissert are deliberately planting the impression that the convictions were thrown out on a technicality.

That’s only true if you think the fact that, in the words of Texas Court of Appeals Judge Melissa Goodwin, “the evidence was legally insufficient to support DeLay’s convictions” is a “technicality,” which of course it isn’t.

More crucially, the AP pair failed to note that not only were the convinctions vacated, Delay was also formally acquitted of all charges, as TV station KHOU reported in October 2013:

DeLay thanks God after aquittal for money laundering

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay says he thanks God for his acquittal on money laundering charges, calling the prosecution, an outrageous criminalization of politics.

… In documents released early Thursday, an appeals court said the evidence in the case was legally insufficient to sustain DeLay s convictions.

I m very happy about it, DeLay said. I m so glad they wrote the ruling about it because the ruling says I never should have been charged, much less indicted.

The court said all judgments against DeLay were reversed, and the former congressman was formally acquitted.

Getting back to AP, Weber and Weissrt also thought it was critically important to tell readers how expensive it will be for the State of Texas to defend Perry:

Mary Anne Wiley, Perry’s general counsel, predicted Perry ultimately will be cleared of the charges against him — abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.

“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” she said.

David L. Botsford, Perry’s defense attorney, whose $450-per hour fees are being paid for by state funds, said he was outraged by the action.

“This clearly represents political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision,” Botsford said in a statement. “Today’s action, which violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution, is nothing more than an effort to weaken the constitutional authority granted to the office of Texas governor, and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a grand jury to punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor.”

If Perry is vindicated, it seems like it would be more than fair for the state to demand reimbursement of those costs from Travis County. But, let me guess — they’ll consider that a “threat” and use it as an excuse to take a run at another indictment.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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