Texas Gov. Rick Perry says Friday’s indictment against him for abuse of power is really nothing more than an abuse of power by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.
A Travis County grand jury indicted the governor of Texas on Aug. 15 on charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Abuse of official capacity is a first-degree felony that carries a sentence of up to 99 years in prison, while the coercion charge is a third-degree felony with a sentence range of two to 10 years.
The indictment says Perry unlawfully used his power when he threatened to veto funding to the state office that investigates public corruption when the unit’s director was sentenced for drunk driving.
"We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country," Perry said at a press conference. "It is outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution. This indictment amounts to nothing more than abuse of power and I cannot and I will not allow that to happen."
The Public Integrity Unit investigates allegations of corruption, political wrongdoing and tax fraud and is housed in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.
In April 2013, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunk driving. She reportedly had a blood alcohol content almost three times the legal limit, and is seen acting belligerently in a jailhouse video.
Perry, a likely Republican candidate for president in 2016, said Lehmberg’s behavior was inappropriate and asked her to resign. She refused, and the indictment alleges that Perry threatened to veto funding to her public corruption unit if she didn’t step down.
Lehmberg was jailed on a to 45-day sentence, and still would not resign.
A grand jury investigated Lehmberg for judicial misconduct but decided she did not need to be removed from office.
Perry later did veto the funding request, cutting $7.5 million from the Public Integrity Unit.
Because of the veto, taxpayers of Travis County had to partially fund the office and several prosecutors and staffers were either reassigned or laid off, the Austin American Statesman previously reported.
Marry Ann Wiley, general counsel for Perry, said the funding veto was made “in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution.”
Another of Perry’s lawyer, David L. Botsford, said in a statement that he was “outraged and appalled” by the grand jury’s decision, which he described as “political abuse of the court system.”
“The facts of this case conclude that the governor’s veto was lawful, appropriate and well within the authority of the office of the governor,” Botsford said.
The indictment “violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution,” Botsford said.
He said it sets a “dangerous precedent” by allowing a grand jury to “punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said there is a “sad history” of the Travis County DA’s Office “engaging in politically-motivated prosecutions.”
In a statement, Cruz said this latest indictment of the governor is “extremely questionable.”
“The Texas Constitution gives the governor the power to veto legislation, and a criminal indictment predicated on the exercise of his constitutional authority is, on its face, highly suspect,” he said.
Fellow Republican governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana showed support for Perry as well, calling the indictment a “blatant misuse of the judicial system by liberal activists who couldn’t defeat him at the polls.”
Gov. Perry did not have to testify before the grand jury, but reportedly several of his top aides did, including the deputy chief of staff, the legislative director and the general counsel.
Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum said Perry is likely to be arraigned on Monday.
"I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes and I intend to win," Perry said. "I’ll explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter. I am confident that we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is. And those responsible will be held accountable."