Democrats must denounce the Rick Perry indictment, and the rush to judgment culture

Democrats know a lot about criminalizing the political process — and the terrible consequences to our nation and our democracy when it happens.

We saw it happen again and again in the 1990s, after multiple Cabinet secretaries in the Clinton administration were "investigated" by "independent counsels" — and every one of them resulted in no conviction, despite the rush to judgment and the media's use of the word "scandals" when an "investigation" is worth even less than an "indictment" as evidence of actual wrongdoing.

We Democrats also pride ourselves on our liberalism and commitment to due process and the presumption of innocence embedded in the U.S. Constitution. That is why my father taught me that Sen. Joe McCarthy's (R-Wis.) use of innuendo and accusation to destroy reputations without a fair trial or any due process was contrary to all our liberal principles.

ADVERTISEMENT
Yet we see the shameful indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry by the Travis County (Austin) district attorney because he vetoed funding of the DA's ‎public corruption unit. He did so after the DA leading that unit had pleaded guilty to drunken driving.

Whether or not Perry was right or wrong in vetoing that funding, motivated by good reasons or bad reasons, is not relevant. The voters get to decide that issue. But it is a perversion of the criminal justice system, a classic case of prosecutorial abuse, to indict Perry as a way of deciding the wisdom of his veto. Voters should decide that, not a prosecutor.

It is even more outrageous to anyone who cares about due process and civil liberties to read the comments from local and state Democrats in the state Texas Democratic Party about the Perry indictment. Most of the comments I read used language of guilt or a presumption of wrongdoing because of the fact of the indictment.

Have these Democrats rushing to make public comments any clue that a prosecutor almost always can, as has been said by many lawyers for a long time, "indict a ham sandwich" if they wish?‎ The grand jury hears only a one-sided presentation of evidence by the prosecutors. No rebuttal is allowed. No cross-examination fundamental to due process is allowed.

In fact, an indictment is evidence of nothing. It is literally just an accusation, not even close to proven facts. Yet I read some Texas Democrats calling for Perry to resign — resign! These cannot be Democrats who care about civil liberties or due process, much less the credibility of our party, which has always denounced those who presume guilt or even suggest wrongdoing after an indictment alone.

In my opinion, silence by Democrats about the Perry indictment and Democratic comments rushing to assume wrongdoing isn't acceptable. If a Republican‎ prosecutor had obtained this indictment against a sitting Democratic governor, and Republican partisans rushed to imply wrongdoing, much less guilt as a result of an indictment before trial, is there any doubt we Democrats would be publicly outraged?

No.

The double standard cannot be tolerated.

McCarthyism is McCarthyism — accusation and innuendo and "investigations" used as surrogates for facts and truth and due process — whether by the left or the right.

Democratic elected officials, especially Democratic attorneys general and district attorneys across the nation, must call on the Travis County DA to withdraw this absurd indictment, and Democratic Party leaders should publicly ask Texas Democrats who have rushed to public judgment of Gov. Perry to withdraw their comments ... and apologize.

There can be only a single standard when it comes to our belief in the due process clause and the implied presumption of innocence in our Constitution.

 

Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is executive vice president of the strategic communications firm Levick. He is the author of Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life