Even after Gov. Rick Perry stripped funding for the agency that prosecutes state public corruption cases, his emissaries worked to swap the resignation of embattled Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg for restoration of the money, several sources told The Texas Tribune this week.
The Tribune learned of the proposal as a grand jury considers whether Perry overstepped his authority last year when he threatened to veto the public integrity unit’s state funding if Lehmberg did not step down after she was arrested for drunken driving. The sources said the offer was made to Lehmberg through several back channels: If Lehmberg — a Democrat whose office was in charge of investigating state officeholders — would resign, Perry would restore the two years in state funds, about $7.5 million, that he had vetoed following her April 12, 2013, arrest and subsequent guilty plea.
“It was communicated to me if she stepped out, [Perry] would restore the funding,” said Travis County Judge Samuel T. Biscoe, a Democrat who said he was one of several people made aware of the proposal from Perry’s office. “I was told his office made the representations.”
An Austin grand jury convened last week to consider evidence brought by Special Prosecutor Mike McCrum, of San Antonio, about whether Perry violated laws, including coercion of a public official and potentially bribery, when he made good on the threat to strip the integrity unit’s funding after Lehmberg declined to resign. Travis County commissioners restored some of the money.
Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, has said that Perry stands by his actions and was exercising his constitutional veto authority.
Videos of Lehmberg’s arrest and booking showed the district attorney sticking out her tongue to deputies, shouting out orders to the sheriff and kicking a cell door. She pleaded guilty in the case, served half of her 45-day jail sentence and entered a treatment program. She has said she will not seek re-election in 2016.
Several sources, who asked not to be identified, citing the grand jury investigation, told the Tribune that Lehmberg was informed of the proposal last July. She was also told, they said, that the proposal came from the governor’s office, about a month after Perry made good on his threat to veto the state funds to the public integrity unit.
“It happened,” one of those sources told the Tribune.
The same sources said Lehmberg rejected the proposal outright because of concerns that such an offer may be illegal.
Reached late Tuesday, Lehmberg declined to comment for this story because of the ongoing grand jury investigation.
Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Perry, said no one from the governor’s office met with Lehmberg.
“Neither the governor nor any member of staff met with or spoke with Ms. Lehmberg,” Parsons said.
Asked if anyone from the governor’s staff told others to convey any offer, he declined to comment, citing the pending grand jury investigation.
This month, McCrum told the Austin American-Statesman that he was “very concerned” about what his investigation had uncovered so far, but he declined to say what was so concerning.
Reached this week, McCrum would only say that he was looking at everything “before the veto and after.”
“I think there were acts committed by numerous people,” he told the Tribune. “I don’t want to be specific about whether they were committed before or after.”