Texas Governor Indicted On Abuse Of Power Charges

A grand jury in Austin has indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on charges that he misused his veto power. Scott Simon talks with NPR's Wade Goodwyn.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, has been indicted on two felony counts. Last night, a grand jury in Austin charged the governor with abusing the power of his office. The indictment accuses Gov. Perry of trying to coerce a district attorney into resigning. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has been following this story from Dallas. Wade, thanks for being with us.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Good morning.

SIMON: Now this case stems from the arrest of Rosemary Lehmberg - a DA in Travis County. She was arrested on a drunk driving charge. What is the grand jury say Governor Perry did to abuse his office?

GOODWYN: Well, it's kind of a complex story. Let me start at the beginning. One of governors - Gov. Perry's favorite state agencies is named CPRIT, which stands for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. And it's essentially a $3 billion state fund to entice the cancer and biotech industries to move to Texas. But almost from the very beginning, there were accusations of conflict of interest, that the money was going more to Gov. Perry's campaign contributors than the bona fide cancer researchers. And so it's the job of the Austin DA's office to investigate corruption charges because the capital is in Austin. So that's what happened.

The Austin DA, Rosemary Lehmberg - her office was in the middle of investigating CPRIT when she was pulled over and arrested for DWI. And not only was she arrested, but the DA acted like a complete horse's behind, demanding to be let go and asking the police if they knew who she was. The audio was more than embarrassing. Here's a little taste.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLICE AUDIO)

DISTRICT ATTORNEY ROSEMARY LEHMBERG: I am not drunk. I am not a criminal. I'm the [bleep] damn district attorney. You better do something pretty quick 'cause I'm getting pretty pissed off.

GOODWYN: The whole episode was a terrible black eye. And the Democratic DA agreed to retire after her term ended. And I think that would have been that, except Gov. Perry decided to stick his nose into the sordid affair and insisted the DA resign immediately or he would veto her investigative budget. And if she had, he could've named her replacement. And suddenly, she had new life. She vowed she would not be bullied by the governor, refused to step down, and then Perry followed through with his veto threat.

SIMON: By the way, I think it's a DUI, driving under the influence.

GOODWYN: Right, in Texas it's DWI.

SIMON: Oh, OK. I wondered about that. Driving while influenced.

GOODWYN: Driving while intoxicated.

SIMON: Oh, OK. All right. Well, a regional difference then. Gov. Perry hasn't announced he's running for president, but he's sure been spending some quality time in Iowa, which is lovely in the summer. But it also might indicate he's interested in running for national office. How does this indictment complicate a Perry candidacy?

GOODWYN: I don't think it's going to damage him with the Tea Party wing in the GOP. They're going to see this as a - this prosecution as a liberal witch hunt. I think it hurts more with the moderate Republicans who may have already been put off by Perry's oops debacle when he ran two years ago. And if he's going to win the nomination for president, it's the more moderate Republicans that he's eventually going to have to win over.

SIMON: And the governor's reaction - I think I read something from one of his people as been jaundiced about this indictment.

GOODWYN: Well, his office has always said that Rick Perry was doing nothing more than carrying out his constitutional right as governor to veto an appropriations bill. And it's as simple as that.

SIMON: Well, NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Dallas. Thanks very much for joining us. We're going to be following this all across the country, not just there in Texas. Thanks very much for being with us.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.

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