AUSTIN, Texas — This afternoon, in a ballroom at the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin hotel in downtown Austin, a press conference was held by the legal team that will represent Texas Governor Rick Perry regarding the indictments entered against him for his veto of the funding for the Public Integrity Unit (the PIU) after Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County District Attorney whose office oversees the PIU was arrested for DWI and caught on videotape being belligerent to police officers. Governor Perry did not appear.
Heading up the legal team is Tony Buzbee, a nationally recognized trial attorney based out of Houston, with nearly two decades of experience. Joining Buzbee are:
- Austin attorney David Botsford, a board certified criminal and criminal appellate attorney with 37 years of experience, who has represented Perry during the grand jury process the last few months;
- Tom Phillips, former Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court;
- Bobby Birchfield, Washington, D.C.-based criminal attorney who has never lost a jury trial, has argued two cases before the United States Supreme Court, and served on George H. W. Bush’s reelection team; and
- Ben Ginsburg, partner at the Washington, D.C. office of Jones Day with three decades of experience on presidential, gubernatorial, and congressional campaigns, including the Bush-Cheney election team and the 2000 Bush recount legal team;
Buzbee led the press conference and delivered remarks before answering questions. Echoing Perry’s confident and indignant tone from his press conference Saturday, Buzbee condemned the indictments as an “outrageous assault on the rule of law,” and vowed that “Governor Perry will fight this indictment one hundred percent, and he will prevail.”
Buzbee characterized Perry’s veto of the PIU funding as not just within his constitutional authority as governor, but also as “the right thing to do,” considering Lehmberg’s conduct. Despite the good work of PIU employees, Perry had felt that he could “not in good conscience support state funding” when the leader of the agency had “lost public confidence,” and the only way for the state to hold the PIU accountable was to veto the funding.
Select highlights from Lehmberg’s arrest video were played, showing her berating the police officers, demanding to see “Greg” (Greg Hamilton, the Travis County Sheriff), crying, yelling, being restrained, sticking out her tongue, and other unflattering behavior. “That is the Travis County District Attorney, [who is] responsible for $7.5 million of state money,” said Buzbee, referring to Lehmberg. He also pointed out other poor behavior by Lehmberg, including her refusal to finish the field sobriety test, being “belligerent” to the arresting officer and the officers at the jail, threatening that the officers would go to jail themselves, kicking, screaming, and so on.
The video and story of Lehmberg’s arrest were well familiar to the press in the room and got little reaction, and Buzbee continued, “The issues raised in this case are much bigger than Governor Perry. We don’t settle political differences in the criminal court in Texas or in the United States; we settle them at the ballot box…[this is] nothing more than banana republic politics.”
Buzbee then went deeper into the legal issues underlying the indictments, pointing out that, like all citizens, Perry has free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as well as the authority granted to him as governor under the Texas Constitution. (See Breitbart contributor Lana Shadwick’s take here.) Of particular importance is the concept of separation of powers and checks and balances between the branches of government (executive, judicial, and legislative), with the veto power serving as a very important power of the executive branch.
Supporting their aggressive opposition to the charges against the governor, Buzbee noted that he had nothing to hide, had issued the veto threat and veto itself publicly and transparently, and was responding to this indictment the same way. “Rick Perry did not plead the Fifth, he did not run and hide…within 48 hours [of the indictment] he had a press conference.” Special prosecutor Michael McCrum had announced earlier today that an arrest warrant for Perry would not be issued, and Buzbee said that they were working out the details for when he would appear for booking and processing. The Houston Chronicle reported earlier today that the governor would still have to have a mugshot, and would be processed according to standard procedures. Buzbee emphasized that they were cooperating completely with the special prosecutor and would let the press know when the booking would be scheduled.
When asked about how the legal expenses would be paid, Buzbee said that the arrangements had not been completely worked out. Some of the legal fees would be paid by the State of Texas as related to the official duties of the office of the Governor, some would come from “other sources,” presumably campaign or PAC funds or Perry’s personal funds.
Ginsberg then addressed the room, citing his long legal career and unique nature of this case. “I’ve been doing this a lot of years,” he said, “and there are just some cases that go beyond the pale…[this is simply a] matter of a governor exercising his constitutional authority.” Ginsburg also expressed concern that the indictment “makes an attempt at setting a harmful precedent in [the] separation of powers” between the branches of government. Ginsburg concluded his portion of the remarks citing the large number of prominent legal scholars across the ideological spectrum who have criticized the indictments, including liberals like Alan Dershowitz, David Axelrod, Rick Hasen, Lanny Davis, and others. “The Democrats that have expressed questions and in some cases strong disagreement is significant…[They] expressed proper concern about the scope of this indictment and the actions of the district attorney.”
A question was then asked about whether Perry’s veto of funding was to thwart any investigation by the PIU into Perry or any of his allies, such as questions that have been raised regarding the distribution of funds by CPRIT, the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. The legal team universally rejected such allegations, with Bodsford stating that there was “absolutely no motive that I’m aware of” along such lines, and Ginsburg agreeing that they “have not seen any proof of that whatsoever.” Ginsburg also noted that Perry was not actually under any obligation to give a reason for a veto, but he did, and “that’s good government.”
Asked whether the threat of the veto could potentially be criminal when the veto itself was not, the legal team again pushed back strongly, mostly on free speech grounds. Buzbee again mentioned that a governor had free speech rights like the rest of us, the “right to say what he chooses,” “a very important right we all have,” and mentioned that he, Buzbee, had served in the military to protect that right (Buzbee served in the United States Marines Corps). Buzbee also noted that governors have not just the right to veto bills and funding, but the “obligation” to do so where it is “good governance.” Ginsburg followed that up with a comment that if a governor says why he is vetoing a bill, that is transparency in government, and he would think that the press would be supportive of that. Botsford cited Perry’s First Amendment and Texas Constitutional free speech rights to declare why he’s vetoing, and said that they had tried to educate special prosecutor on all these concerns, but “that education apparently did not get through.”
Intriguingly, the legal team indicated that there was not necessarily proof that Perry had even directly made the veto threat to Lehmberg, noting that the only such proof was an Austin-American Statesman article.
Lucy Nashed, Perry’s press secretary, told Breitbart Texas that it was “not unusual” for a governor to communicate what he thinks about a piece of legislation as it goes through the process. Nashed deferred to the attorneys on the legal issues underlying the case but noted the standard practice for governors was to publicly discuss their thoughts about potential vetoes. “The entire legislative process is a give and take. There is constant communication happening there.”
(Disclosure: The Jones Day law firm is representing the author of this article in an unrelated matter, Halbig v. Burwell, but she is not represented by Mr. Ginsburg and has never communicated with him.)
Sarah Elizabeth Rumpf is a political and communications consultant living in Austin. You can follow her on Twitter at @rumpfshaker.