Former House majority leader Tom DeLay on Monday sharply criticized the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), saying the Public Integrity Unit behind the move is unconstitutional and unfairly intimidates state officials.
“I think it’s totally unconstitutional. A locally elected district attorney has statewide jurisdiction, and it needs to be changed,” ex-Representative DeLay said in a Fox News interview. “These people for 30 years have been doing this to their enemies.”
DeLay’s comments are notable because he was one of the unit’s primary targets once. Known as “The Hammer” during his years in the House Republican leadership due to his strong-arm legislative tactics, DeLay was indicted in 2005 on charges related to campaign fundraising.
He resigned from Congress under pressure the next year. His case wended its way slowly through the courts, and his trial did not begin until 2010. A jury found him guilty, and in 2011 a state judge sentenced him to three years in prison for conspiring to launder corporate cash into political donations.
DeLay remained free on bail during the appeals process. In 2013, a Texas Court of Appeals ruled that the evidence was “legally insufficient” to support the conviction, and he was acquitted.
The combative Hammer on Monday compared his own experience to Governor Perry’s and said he had no doubt that Perry’s indictment was a “conspiracy” and “politically motivated.” Washington Democrats, he said, were probably behind the move, though he offered no evidence this was the case.
“It’s a conspiracy to use the legal system to politicize politics,” DeLay said.
The former majority leader’s comments about the Perry indictment were notably combative but far from alone. In a worlds-colliding moment, DeLay’s opinion was shared by the editorial board of The New York Times, which came out against the indictment in an editorial printed in Tuesday’s editions.
The Times was not complimentary to Perry per se. It called him “one of the least thoughtful and most damaging state leaders in America.” It said that Perry’s veto of $7.5 million in state funds for the Public Integrity Unit in an effort to get a Democratic prosecutor convicted of drunken driving to resign was “ill-advised.”
But the Times declared that the veto did not rise to the level of a criminal act.
“Governors and presidents threaten vetoes and engage in horse-trading all the time to get what they want, but for that kind of political activity to become criminal requires far more evidence than has been revealed in the Perry case so far,” the Times said.
As these examples show, Perry’s situation has created an interesting juxtaposition among the US political punditocracy. Many on the right condemn the effort as overreach – and they’ve been joined by some, but by no means all, on the left. As we noted Monday, former Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted that the indictment seems “pretty sketchy.” The left-leaning Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine over the weekend wrote that “having read the indictment, legal training of any kind seems unnecessary to grasp its flimsiness.”
Whether this cats-and-dogs-lying-down-together continues on this issue may depend on further developments in the case. And given the length of DeLay’s struggle with Travis County prosecutors, there may be lots of time for these developments to surface.
“[W]e may be watching the first shots of a legal battle that will go on for years, maybe nearly a decade,” writes Jim Geraghty on Monday in the right-leaning National Review.