AUSTIN, Texas — The Dallas Morning News unfairly attacked Texas Governor Rick Perry in a story this weekend saying that Perry “tried to force [Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg] from office for drunken driving,” and that he had “cited outrage at her behavior and a loss of confidence in her ability to do the job.” In an apparent attempt to discredit Perry as a hypocrite, the Morning News oversimplified the story to focus on the alcohol issue, describing a Perry adviser and two other county district attorneys who had committed alcohol-related offenses, instead of the real reason Perry was outraged at Lehmberg’s behavior. Other media across Texas quickly piled on the attack, but Perry has never claimed that Lehmberg’s DWI arrest alone was the reason she should be removed from office. Instead, he has always maintained that her behavior that was “abusive to law enforcement” was why she should not be heading an agency charged with protecting the public trust.
The main subject of the Morning News article, Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas head Wayne Roberts, does have several intoxication related offenses on his record: two DWI convictions in 1990 and 2006 in Texas, and a 2000 public intoxication charge in Virginia. As the article notes, “Roberts acknowledged battling a drinking problem but said he has been sober for eight years,” and had informed Perry of his past arrests.
The article then includes a quote from Perry spokesman Travis Considine — “Wayne Roberts is not an elected official whose responsibility it is to oversee an agency responsible for law enforcement, nor is there any evidence that he was abusive to law enforcement officials” — but then proceeds to ignore it entirely just two paragraphs later, writing that “Perry has chosen to treat the same — and even more egregious — infractions differently from those of Lehmberg, who is a Democrat.”
Two other Texas District Attorneys were arrested and charged with DWI during Perry’s term as Governor, Swisher County DA Terry McEachern in 2003 and Kaufman County DA Rick Harrison in 2009, and it is true that Perry did not call for their resignations. However, the key point remains that neither of these DAs nor Roberts engaged in the outlandish behavior seen on the Lehmberg video. In other words, despite the Morning News’ statement to the contrary, the “infractions” that they committed and the reasons Perry wanted Lehmberg removed from office are not actually the “same.” Roberts, McEachern, and Harrison were not abusive to law enforcement officers, they did not resist arrest, and they did not have to be restrained for the protection of law enforcement officers. There are no videos of these men kicking doors, screaming, begging for the sheriff to be called, or threatening to have police officers arrested for doing their jobs. Painting the issue as nothing more than Perry wanting to remove a Democrat, Lehmberg, from office, while allowing these Republicans to remain, is a gross oversimplification of the issues and a misrepresentation of Perry’s clearly stated reasons for the veto.
After the Morning News article ran, the AP circulated a short summary of the article, and media outlets across Texas quickly ran the AP’s account, including the Houston Chronicle, KDFW-Fox 4 in Dallas-Fort Worth, KVUE-ABC and KXAN-NBC in Austin, WFAA-ABC in Dallas, ABC-13 in Houston, KSAT-ABC in San Antonio, The Monitor in McAllen, and many others.
The story also lit up social media. One of the Morning News’ Twitter accounts posted a link to the story with a tweet that said, “Rick Perry cited Austin DA’s DWI in attempt to oust her, but promoted aide with 3 alcohol offenses.” Tim Sullivan, the news director for News Talk KURV 710 in McAllen, tweeted that Perry was “accused of having partisan, hypocritical slant in approach to officials arrested for DWI.” Other Morning News reporters also joined in to gang up on Perry. Jennifer Emily, the paper’s criminal courts reporter, tweeted “Perry promoted aide with 3 alcohol offenses, but tried to to force out Travis County DA after DWI,” and Senior political writer Wayne Slater posted two tweets promoting his paper’s slanted angle on the story:
Rick Perry says he’s tough on public officials guilty of DWI … If they’re Democrats. Promoted aide with 3 DWI episodes @ChristyHoppe
— Wayne Slater (@WayneSlater) November 16, 2014
— Wayne Slater (@WayneSlater) November 16, 2014
Since being indicted in August over his veto of the funding for the Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit, Perry has been consistent in describing Lehmberg’s behavior the night of her arrest for drunk driving that was “abusive to law enforcement” as the reason for his veto. As Breitbart Texas reported back in August, the video of Lehmberg the night of her arrest showed shocking and egregious behavior, including attempts to exert the power of her office to avoid legal consequences and Lehmberg acting so belligerent and disrespectful to law enforcement officers that she had to be restrained:
In April 2013, Lehmberg was arrested after a witness called 911, describing her as driving erratically, swerving back and forth into the bike lane, and into oncoming traffic. Officers at the scene reportedly found an open bottle of vodka in her car, and a blood sample obtained later that evening purportedly showed a blood alcohol level of 0.239—almost three times the legal limit—even that many hours later.
Not only did her arrest attracted headlines, but her belligerent behavior after she was brought to the police station—all captured on video tape—drew attention, as well. Lehmberg is seen blaming the police for destroying her political career, yelling and insulting them; demanding that they call Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton; sticking out her tongue; making faces; kicking at the door to her cell; and eventually getting restrained with leg irons, being strapped to a chair and wearing what is commonly referred to as a “spit mask,” which is usually used when a detainee is spitting or biting…
Lehmberg’s sentence, a fine and 45 days in jail, was most likely the highest in history in Travis County for a first-time DWI charge. The investigation into her case also revealed a less-than-flattering picture of her drinking habits. Subpoenaed receipts from Twin Liquors showed her buying 72 bottles of Cirroc vodka—totaling more than 23 gallons—in a 15-month period, and that Lehmberg spread her purchases out among different stores. This amount only covers purchases made with her credit card at that one liquor store chain, not cash purchases or alcohol obtained elsewhere.
At an August press conference after his indictment, Perry said that he “wholeheartedly and unequivocally” stood behind his veto of the “funding for an office whose leadership had lost the public’s confidence by acting inappropriately and unethically.” In response to a reporter’s question, Perry added:
Here is what I think is really important for the people to understand, not just in Texas but this country, and that is we have seen an office in the form of the Travis County District Attorney’s office, the lead legal individual for criminal affairs in this county and overseeing public officials who conducted themselves in an incredibly inappropriate way. Stopped for a DWI with a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit. An individual who when booked in had to be restrained, was abusive to law enforcement, was kicking the door. I think Americans and Texans who have seen this agree with me that that is not an individual who is heading up an office that we can afford to fund…
As the Governor of the State of Texas and as the individual who has the authority constitutionally to decide whether we’re going to spend state dollars on that, I made that decision, and I said no. And given that information and given that choice again, that is exactly what I would do.
Ironically, one of the charges against Perry, “abuse of power,” can also be used to describe Lehmberg’s actions the night of her arrest. As mentioned above, she was captured on video repeatedly mentioning her office title, asking for someone to call Sheriff Hamilton, bemoaning the damage to her political career, insisting that the law enforcement officers are overreacting, and even threatening to have the officers investigated and arrested themselves. If Lehmberg had not been the Travis County DA, she would not have had the professional relationship with Sheriff Hamilton or the connections within the judicial system to be able to make these threats. As Perry has said repeatedly, it is understandable that the public would lose confidence that someone who had sought to use her office to intimidate police officers into being lenient with her would be able to faithfully and ethically supervise an investigatory unit dedicated to maintaining public integrity.
Perry has consistently and confidently maintained that the reason for his veto was how Lehmberg was “abusive to law enforcement.” His political action committee, RickPAC, released a video shortly after his indictment with this message, and Perry himself has continued to reaffirm that he stands behind his veto. When Perry reported to the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center in downtown Austin for his official booking and mugshot, he told a crowd of supporters and media, “This indictment is nothing short of an attack on the Constitutional powers of the Office of Governor…and I will not allow this attack on our system of government to stand…The actions that I took were lawful, they were legal, and they were proper.” Then, earlier this month at a press conference after his first pretrial hearing, Perry said, “I’m here today to restate the lawful constitutional authority for a governor to use his or her veto authority. I stand behind my authority and I would do it again. I stand behind that veto, and I would make that veto again.”
Politically speaking, the American people seem to have decided that drug and alcohol issues alone are not enough to bar someone from elected office. President George W. Bush was arrested for drunk driving in Maine in 1976, and our last three Presidents have all admitted to using illegal drugs prior to their time in office. Perry has made a similar calculation, and has actively sought to remove only the elected official who exacerbated her unfortunate personal lapse in judgment to drive under the influence of alcohol with her threatening and abusive behavior towards the law enforcement officers of the very justice system she had sworn to uphold.
Watch the video of Lehmberg’s booking at the Travis County Jail.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker