Rick Perry Dismantled Texas' Public Integrity Unit. Now He's Facing a Grand Jury.
The Texas governor is being investigated after he cut funding for the state's watchdog agency.
Rick Perry—Republican Texas governor, failed 2012 presidential candidate, and potential 2016 retread contender—is battling legal trouble at home, thanks to his controversial veto that demolished the state office tasked with investigating political scandals. On Monday, a Texas judge convened a grand jury to probe Perry's decision last year to ax funding for the state's Public Integrity Unit. The special prosecutor investigating the case, Michael McCrum, has not filed any charges. But earlier this month he said, "I cannot elaborate on what exactly is concerning me, but I can tell you I am very concerned about certain aspects of what happened here."
Perry's troubles started when he attempted to to displace the government official in charge of the Public Integrity Unit, a state-funded watchdog agency that investigates charges of public corruption. The unit is led by whoever is serving as the Travis County district attorney, who is based in Austin. The current DA is Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat. Last April, she was arrested for drunk driving.
After Lehmberg's arrest, Perry called for her resignation, claiming that the public could no longer place its trust in an official who herself ran afoul of the law. But the governor has no direct control over her job, a locally elected position, and a grand jury rejected a former opponent's attempt to have Lehmberg removed from office. For her part, Lehmberg refused to resign, though she said she won't run for reelection in 2016. That wasn't enough for Perry. With Lehmberg holding on to her job, the governor decided to cut off the $7.5 million (over two years) in state funding for the watchdog unit with a line-item veto. "Despite the otherwise good work the Public Integrity Unit's employees," a Perry statement said after the veto, "I cannot in good conscience support continued State funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public's confidence."