A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


The statehouse probes: Perry, Christie and Cuomo

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has given over his fingerprints and smiling mug shot, and his lawyer calls the case against him “an attempt to criminalize politics”—that is, Perry’s hardnosed style of politics, which involved cutting off funds to a prosecutor who investigated his administration.

Indeed, there is a school of thought that prosecutors have been criminalizing political maneuvering in many places. In New Jersey, the U.S. attorney has a grand jury investigation into whether Gov. Chris Christie knew about his aides’ “Bridgegate” tactics (among other things). And the U.S. attorney in Manhattan is taking a very skeptical look at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cynical manipulation of a commission he appointed with the stated aim of exposing political corruption. Other governors such as Wisconsin's Scott Walker have also received prosecutorial scrutiny.

Even The New York Times editorial board has bought into Perry’s defense: “Bad political judgment is not necessarily a felony, and the indictment handed up against him on Friday— given the facts so far — appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution."

Why are the political maneuvers of so many governors being investigated? I’ve seen various theories. One is that prosecutors have political motives. Another, advanced by Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post, is that with the demise of newspaper statehouse bureaus, governors are tempted to play their politics faster and looser.

My theory, based on some years of covering prosecutors up close, is a little different. Prosecutors have a lot of discretion about what to investigate and whom to prosecute. They are also quite attuned to the zeitgeist. In some sense, they have to be: They need to know what is going to play before a jury, and what will not.

So I think these prosecutors are picking up on how weary the public is with cynical, self-serving political manipulation in the nation’s statehouses. They’re scouring the law books for applicable statutes, and opening investigations.

Perry seems to have seized the public relations advantage in his battle with the special prosecutor, Michael McCrum. Political reporters are already moving onto the story of whether the indictment will actually help Perry in Republican presidential primaries. But when the cold, hard facts are adduced at trial, things might not look too good for him.

Perry is charged with coercion and abuse of office. The allegations stem from his veto of $7.5 million for a district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit on grounds that the DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, refused to resign after a messy arrest on drunken-driving charges. It may seem a stretch to indict a governor for this but, as the Dallas Morning News reports, Perry “didn’t feel that strongly when two other district attorneys faced the same charges under similar circumstances.”

Was Perry trying to coerce Lehmberg into stopping investigations of his administration? It’s a question worth exploring.

The special prosecutor, McCrum, was appointed by a Republican judge. He is no political hack. In response to Perry’s accusations, he simply says that he found out the facts and the relevant statutes, and brought the case.

How all these investigations will work out is anyone’s guess. Each matter has its own set of facts.  But politicians should be aware that even a distracted public has a limit to how much it will overlook. Some prosecutors seem to have sensed that already.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Preet bharara the Attorney for the Southern district of NY intrigues me the most. Here he is a Democrat going against a democratic Governor. Unless he switches parties, I doubt he will go any further. 

Here you go - the Travis County DA's Public Integrity Unit and its history will be centerstage:

Keep in mind that an appeals court through out the DeLay conviction of this unit.

Here are five points to keep in mind:

Keep in mind that two pending cases of this unit are on-going:

- CRIPT - investigating Perry's special hi tech innoviative/ tax free projects

- Univ. of Texas trustees - Perry appointee has now driven UT president into retiring next spring; he is being investigated for his actions

Was Perry trying to coerce Lehmberg into stopping investigations of his administration? It’s a question worth exploring.

But if that is what this is about, then presumably the proper order of things would be, explore/investigate first, and then file criminal charges?

Here is Jonathan Turley on the charges in question.




Sounds like all hat and no cattle indeed. There may be good reasons to go after Perry but this is not one of them. 

This woman and Rob Ford should get together! A match made in heaven!!

I've never been a great fan of prosecutors going after "corrupt politicians" short of outright illegal activity of the bribery, extortion, outright criminality.  Some of these things, Bridgegate comes to mind, were examples of horrible judgement, petty and stupid, but to me its a stretch ot say it was illegal.  Mayors, governors, even presidents use this kind of thing all the time to get votes or show that voting against them has a real price.  Indeed I think one problem with Congress today is that it is difficult to make those kind of deals, issue those kinds of punishments, that are needed to make things move.  One wonders, for example, if the Defense Department decided to close a few South Carolina military bases, if some South Carolina Congressmen might be less dogmatic and more pragmatic.  But instead the Congress gave that power ot a separate commission 25 years ago.    I worked for a Mayor at one time who had the snow plowing routes reconfigured such that a troublesome city councilman's street was plowed last and the trash routes reconfigured so his trash was picked up (rather loudly in those pre-automated days) at 4AM. The neighbors all complained to the councilman about why they were always late for work when it snowed and woken up from banging trashcans at 4AM in nice weather.  He came around to the mayor's way of thinking.  Small stuff but important if you are a city councilman.   At the time that was considered politics.  Today it would be considered a crime and route adjustments would be made by an indepent commission. 

What prosecutors may be going after, but which is not necessarily illegal, is hypocrisy and its sibling, moral posturing. That is what has struck me about the Cuomo/Bharara dust-up. Cuomo appointed a commission to investiage ethical/legal lapses at the state level, of which there are too many to mention. When the commission started supoenaing people, Cuomo's office raised a stink. Before the commission got around to reporting Cuomo shut them down. Bharara has now suponeaed their files and records.

If Bharara gets around to a grand jury, I would guess there are a lot of New Yorkers who might find cause to indict the governor--as the grand jury found in Texas. That wouldn't mean he was guilty of a crime.

What about the prosecutor in the Fergueson case. He's sticking to his guns in retaining jurisdiction. Should he? Or not?

Ms. Steinfels - Ferguson/STL County prosecuter - doesn't matter.  Holder and DOJ will file separate charges and seek indictments/conviction no matter what local DA does.


It should not pass without notice that the crimes with which Gov. Perry are charged are deemed a first degree felony and a third degree felony. The lawmakers who passed them, unknowing of whom may be charged with them, gave them a higher level of seriousness than, say, stealing cigars.

Bill, Don't hold your breath waiting for a Justice Department conviction. Anywhere, anytime.

Not all bad behavior is, or should be, a crime.  And I cant for the life of me figure out how exercising a legal power - the line item veto - could ever be a crime.  The law explicitly permits it...

Bill deH: My impression is that murder, manslaughter, etc. are state not federal crimes. AG Holder could bring a case for civill rights infringements, but murder? Doubt it. Is there a lawyer in the house?

The local prosecutor in Ferguson or wherever: protesters wanted him replaced by another prosecutor, another local one.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment