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Lina Hidalgo says she expects to be targeted next in what she calls a political investigation by Kim Ogg

In her first one-on-one interview about the Elevate Strategies investigation, Hidalgo lays out her case for why she accused the DA of a political vendetta.


Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media


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Updated with a response from Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg on Thursday, May 19 at 11:25 a.m.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday accused District Attorney Kim Ogg of pursuing a political vendetta to try to push her out of office. Three of Hidalgo’s staffers have been accused of communicating with a vendor, Elevate Strategies, to tailor an $11 million contract's scope of work in order to cater to the company's strengths.

The DA's office has denied using the investigation for political purposes. (UPDATE: For Ogg’s full statement, scroll to the bottom of this story.)

Now, in her first one-on-one interview about the investigation into her staff, Hidalgo goes into detail about why she believes that investigation is political, answers whether she would step down from her role as county judge if her staff is convicted, and mulls what she expects will come next — including the possibility of her own indictment.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You said on Tuesday that District Attorney Kim Ogg was playing politics with this criminal investigation regarding Elevate Strategies. Can you elaborate on that?

I’m watching what’s happening and I think it’s very clear that she’s pursuing a political agenda, that she’s not pursuing an agenda of justice, an agenda of truth. She’s pursuing an investigation, even after it’s become clear that the facts she’s relying on are distorted. She’s pursuing an investigation in the middle of an election year — a few months away from my reelection.

There’s been a steady stream of leaks to the press. There’s just no other way to look at this. And I think it’s important for everybody to know what’s going on, for everybody to understand what’s taking place here.

You had mentioned that there’s evidence to support your claim. I’m curious what that evidence looks like?

The timing, of course, is its own evidence, right? To pull something off like this, in the middle of my reelection campaign — she did the same thing to my colleague, Commissioner (Rodney) Ellis, in his reelection. Of course, she didn’t try to indict his staff, but she announced an investigation and she let it carry out for good length of his reelection. So the timing is very clear.

And then, generally speaking, how public this has all been — this has not been a discussion that has happened within the courts, as it should. It's been giving information to the media, time after time, ahead of following legal process. And so that’s what you do if you’re trying to harm someone politically, if you disagree with them politically.

You don’t want them to win again, you have some sort of personal problem with them, and you have no problem using an office that is meant to be used to pursue justice — if you have no problem using it for political aim, you're going to do this kind of thing. You’re going to leak things in the media, you’re going to pursue an investigation when the facts just aren’t there. You’re going to time it perfectly with the election.

And here’s the other piece, this isn’t new for her, right? It’s not like I’m saying, “oh, gosh, this is odd. And it’s not like her, but the here she is doing this.” She’s done this kind of thing before.

MORE | Here are the criminal accusations against three Lina Hidalgo staffers at the center of the investigation

You mentioned Ogg’s been using similar rhetoric as your Republican opponents, specifically with these claims of "defunding the police." Do you believe that the two Republican candidates that are pining for your seat are somehow involved in this?

I don’t know. I mean, I’ve certainly heard that. I’ve certainly heard that and people are scared, you know, to talk on the record about this. But I have heard that. And I’ve heard about political opponents being involved directly. But look, you don’t have to rely on hearsay to say that she very consistently, you know — she came to commissioner’s court several times, and it was almost comical, because she would come and allege that we were defunding her office and that’s sort of the dog whistle that my political opponents use. And we know that Republicans nationally, there was a dog whistle: defunding, defunding, defunding.

Of course, in Harris County, we’ve only increased funding for law enforcement — $1.4 billion, more than ever in Harris County history, including increasing the funding for her office and every constable office and the sheriff’s department. We pay entry level prosecutors now more than anywhere else in the region, if not the state.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Harris County DA Kim Ogg requests additional funding for the DA’s office at Commissioners Court on March 22, 2022.

Do you feel like your reelection is going to be even more difficult now because of this?

I think that’s what she wants, right? That’s what she wants. That’s what all of these national players, from the RNC, to Sean Hannity, to the MyPillow guy, to Dan Patrick and the like — Ted Cruz — all these guys that are actively working against me and endorsing my opponents, that’s what all these folks want. That’s what she wants as part of the way she’s been attacking me at commissioners court for a very long time, and attacking my colleagues.

But I still think we’re gonna win. I think we have a lot of support. I hear it all the time. People see through this. People know me, you know, people know my work, people have seen me put the community ahead of politics time and time again.

Putting aside the criminal charges, ethically speaking, do you think this entire situation damages the trust that the community has in local government?

Yes, you know, there are real, actual issues that our criminal justice system should be tackling, and to see the justice resources pursuing these kinds of politically motivated investigations — and like I said, this isn’t the first time, of course — that we can't trust in the system. That’s very disappointing. And then, you know, the way that this distracts and seeks to really create a disturbance, a distraction to us trying to do the work of county government.

I mean, I need to focus on hurricane season, I need to focus on early childhood education, I need to focus on flooding, and I am and so is my team. But, you know, when she’s over there filing motions with the press before she files them with the defendant, of course, that takes time. They've got to, you know, respond to the press allegation before they even know what it is they’re looking at.

So that’s disruptive, and it’s meant to be disruptive. But the good thing is, I’m strong, my team is strong. We’re smart people, we know how to walk and chew gum at the same time. And we’re even more emboldened. Because I know that I did nothing wrong. I know they did nothing wrong. And this kind of politically motivated exercise needs to be called out for what it is.

If there is a conviction in this investigation while you’re in office, would you consider stepping down?

Well, I don’t know that she’s going to move that fast. I mean, she wouldn’t. I think she’s going to continue stretching this out through Election Day, obviously. I know that I did nothing wrong. I’ve not seen anything to suggest that my team did anything, but protect the people of Harris County.

And, you know, that doesn’t mean that she’s not going to try to come after me now. And I’ve been asked a couple of times, you know, “do you think you’re going to be indicted? What do you think is going to happen?” And the truth is, yeah. I mean, I think if I’m being realistic, if I’m watching her pursue this, she’ll stop at nothing. And so what’s the next step? It's to try to directly come after me.

So that’s, I think, what I can see most clearly, simply by watching the direction in which she’s going. But beyond that, I mean, we’ve done everything — as I always do with all my work, is focused on what is best for the community. And I’ve not seen anything to suggest that my team did anything other than that. And what’s been reported already demonstrates that the allegations she’s making are based on a distortion of the facts.

Below is a response from Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg:

We at the District Attorney's Office take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, the laws of the United States and of this State, Texas. We rely upon evidence to bring cases before grand juries, courts and trial juries. Our mission is to seek justice in every single case and we are doing our job.

The nearly daily public misstatements being made by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo about pending felony cases brought against three members of her staff now compel comment to the public by this office and by me, the top law enforcement official in Harris County. Failing to do so allows a top county official, in her official capacity, to continue to improperly influence those people of Harris County who will serve on the jury in this case. This harms everyone, including the accused, and must stop.

The process our Harris County government utilizes to issue contracts and to aid Harris County residents with problems like COVID-19 should be a totally transparent process, ethically and under law. The criminal charges currently being prosecuted by the Harris County DA's Office were brought after a diverse grand jury indicted the defendants.

An indictment is a finding by a grand jury of probable cause that crime occurred, and in this instance that three "public servants," while working in the County Judge's Office, diverted an $11 million contract to a political consultant under the guise of COVID vaccine outreach – money that a more qualified bidder could have used to accomplish the worthwhile goal of increasing awareness and participation in COVID vaccination in underrepresented communities throughout Harris County.

In this case, a grand jury spent five months reviewing evidence and listening to testimony concerning the Elevate Strategies contract procurement. Judge Hidalgo has referred to case evidence, to information the investigators and prosecutors don't have. She has an ethical duty and responsibility to provide any evidence under oath to the Texas Rangers and she should do so immediately.

The criminal justice process is not a debate. It is not theater. It is the search for truth and the place for accountability under the law. We do not fight out our differences in the streets or on social media and I will not try this case in the court of public opinion. We will try this case, like every other criminal case, in a court of law before a jury of peers, and we will look to them for a fair outcome. When all the evidence is seen by a trial court, justice will prevail; our work continues.

Lucio Vasquez

Lucio Vasquez

Newscast Producer

Lucio Vasquez is a newscast producer at Houston Public Media, NPR’s affiliate station in Houston, Texas. Over the last two years, he's covered a wide range of topics, from politics and immigration to culture and the arts. Lately, Lucio has focused his reporting primarily on public safety and criminal justice...

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