MSNBC’s Halperin on Perry Indictment: ‘This Is the Stupidest Thing I've Seen...In My Entire Career’

On Monday’s Morning Joe on MSNBC, MSNBC contributor and managing editor of Bloomberg Politics Mark Halperin slammed the indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) by an Austin, Texas-area grand jury for threatening to veto funding for a Democratic District Attorney’s public integrity unit after she was convicted of a DUI as “the stupidest thing I’ve seen, I think, in my entire career.

Expanding further on his opinion, Halperin added that: “I hope some judge throws it out right away. It's not just kind of funny and ridiculous, but it’s an infringement on individual liberty. He’s got a First Amendment right just cause he’s governor of Texas and I think it’s – like you said, it's easy to joke about this, but this is a serious thing. It is ridiculous that he was indicted for this. Ridiculous.” [MP3 audio here; Video below]

Halperin’s comments came after he was asked by co-host Mika Brzezinski to acknowledge what she believed were “two sides” to this story and asked him to speculate that Perry also threatened the veto because Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was “investigating things that were of very close interest to him.” Halperin said that it was possible, but quickly swatted that assertion down.

Just prior, co-host Joe Scarborough described how he thought that there had to be more to the story when he first found out about it over the weekend, but that it does not appear to be the case. He made a comparison dating back to the 1980s and debates over federal budgets between Congress and the Reagan administration where by “using this logic, Ronald Reagan could have been indicted when he threw that huge budget down saying if you send it to me, I will veto this budget and somebody lose their job.”

Panelist Nicole Wallace predicted that “this story goes away very quickly” due to the fact that Republicans, former Obama administration aide David Axelrod and liberal legal scholars are congregating on the side of Perry and the need to dismiss the charges with “extremely partisan interests” on the other.

Scarborough later made another comparison, with this one alluding to former Republican Congressman and House Majority Leader Tom Delay being subjected to an indictment by Travis County. Delay, who ended up resigning from Congress in 2006, was convicted in 2010, but had it overturned by a Texas appeals court in September 2013.

“I mean, this scene has happened time and time again where Democrats go after Republicans with, you know, sketchy, you know, sketchy reasons,” exclaimed Scarborough.

At the segment’s conclusion, the executive editor and co-founder of the Texas Tribune, Ross Ramsey, agreed with Scarborough that officials in Travis County (which includes Austin) have a history of entering into legal battles with elected officials by stating that "Travis County does have a long history of getting in these things with elected officials. Tom Delay is one, Kay Bailey Hutchison is another and they don't have a very good batting record with it."


The relevant portions of the transcript from the segment on the Perry indictment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on August 18 are transcribed below.

MSNBC’s Morning Joe

August 18, 2014

6:14 a.m. Eastern

JOE SCARBOROUGH: I just -- you have people on the left and people on the right talking about how outrageous this is. Willie, this woman – I mean, she blew 3.5, 2.4, 2.5 , 2.6, something like that. She was combative. She had – everybody makes mistakes. Right? Everybody makes – she made a big one. She threatened her people, saying I'm going to put you in jail. She acted about as badly you can act under these circumstances and everybody makes a mistake and go to rehab. That’s fine, but I think any governor that I've ever met – and I've met a lot of governors – who would say, you know what? She is probably not the best person to run the public integrity unit after acting that way. 

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Texas Justice; Lone Star Standoff; Perry Indicted Over Veto]

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Is that an elective job? Because you could argue that the folks decided that. 

MARK HALPERIN: It is.

BRZEZINSKI: Just saying. There's two sides. 

SCARBOROUGH: So, anyway. 

NICOLE WALLACE: But there are two sides and on one of them stand all the Republicans plus David Axelrod plus liberal legal scholars and on the other stand extremely partisan interests. So, I think this story goes away very quickly. 

SCARBOROUGH: By the way, David Axelrod said this was very sketchy –  

WALLACE: Very sketchy. 

SCARBOROUGH: Sketchy.

WALLACE: It looks very sketchy. And Alan Dershowitz – 

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, Alan Dershowitz – 

WALLACE: – prominent legal scholar said that there are no legal grounds for essentially what they’ve done in indicting him for simply carrying out the constitutionally clearly stated objectives of this office. 

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Texas Justice: Indicted; Perry Says Grand Jury Abused Power]

SCARBOROUGH: And let's put in this proper context. Republicans. Republicans have caught a lot of flak this summer for suing the president. Not personally, not – but having a constitutional question about the powers of the White House. What the White House can and can't do. Then you have impeachment. That sort of is the next level where you try to remove somebody from office, but not put them in jail. I said that's stupid and people talk about that being the politicalization of office. In this case, the Austin district attorney is trying to put Rick Perry in jail for doing something that I think a lot of other governors would have done at the same time. 

(....)

SCARBOROUGH: They are talking about – yeah, this has to, because if you look at the statute it can't be the veto because that’s a governmental action by a governmental body. In this case, they are indicating him because the prosecutor is so desperate to do this, they’re indicting him for political speech which, of course, is the most protected speech under the United States Constitution, and he's done it all publicly, right? Nobody is suggesting that he's whispering behind closed doors and saying give me cash. I thought when I first heard this, when this news first broke Saturday afternoon, I said he must have taken cash under the table. There had to be more to this story. No! They were public veto threats that they indicted him for which, using this logic, Ronald Reagan could have been indicted when he threw that huge budget down saying if you send it to me, I will veto this budget and somebody lose their job because that, they said, we are going to veto -- I mean, is there anything else out there that he has done other than make public statements? 

ROSS RAMSEY: He did a couple of things. It's not just that he made a public statement. That he said I'm going to defund this agency or I'm going to take away the state's funding for this agency if she doesn't quit. Now, one of the reasons that the partisans got involved on the other side and made the original complaint was that hers is the office that investigates state governments. She is the watchdog over public corruption, cases and things like that and Perry is in the case of a fox taking away the food supply of the watchdog at the – the henhouse and so there is a conflict of interest in it and a lot of people said at the time that he spoke up, you know, you ought to back out of this and you can veto that funding and you can demand her resignation, but you can't tie those two things together. 

BRZEZINSKI: I totally agree and the question did he have the authority to do this and if he did, he did. Mark Halperin, I guess one other facet of this you could argue that she was investigated things – investigating things that were of very close interest to him. 

MARK HALPERIN: She potentially was. This is the stupidest thing I've seen, I think, in my entire career. I hope some judge throws it out right away. It's not just kind of funny and ridiculous, but it’s an infringement on individual liberty. He’s got a First Amendment right just cause he’s governor of Texas and I think it’s – like you said, it's easy to joke about this, but this is a serious thing. It is ridiculous that he was indicted for this. Ridiculous.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, it's ridiculous also, Ross, really quickly, I mean, it’s also ridiculous that you have this going on in Texas repeatedly where you've got Democrats based in Austin, Texas, going after Republicans that run statewide offices or in the case of Tom Delay. I mean, this scene has happened time and time again where Democrats go after Republicans with, you know, sketchy, you know, sketchy reasons. 

RAMSEY: I think that's right. I need to point out here that the prosecutor on this is a Republican. There’s a special proper in this. It's not Rosemary Lehmberg. A Republican appointed by a Republican judge. Now, that said, Travis County does have a long history of getting in these things with elected officials. Tom Delay is one, Kay Bailey Hutchison is another and they don't have a very good batting record with it. 

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah. They indicted Kay Bailey Hutchinson too. 

BRZEZINSKI: Alright, Ross Ramsey, thank you very much.

SCARBOROUGH: Or charged Kay Bailey Hutchinson? Never Indicted her? That’s ridiculous.

RAMSEY: They did indict her, actually. 

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, they did indict her? 

RAMSEY: Yeah. She went to trial and – got out on the first day of the trial. 

SCARBOROUGH: Oh, ok. Wow. 

BRZEZINSKI: And they threw it out on the first day.

SCARBOROUGH: That's unbelievable. 

BRZEZINSKI: Alright, well maybe it is like a sewer leak in a restaurant that just opened. We’ll see. Ross, thank you very much.

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is a news analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division