Texas Gov. Rick Perry: ‘We don’t settle political differences with indictments’
(CNN) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, calling his indictment politically motivated, vowed Saturday to fight charges he abused his power by trying to pressure a district attorney to resign.
“This farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and those responsible will be held accountable,” Perry said at a news conference in Austin, the capital.
A grand jury in Travis County indicted Perry, a Republican, on two felony counts stemming from his threat to veto funding for a statewide public integrity unit run by Travis Country District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, unless she stepped down, according to the special prosecutor in the case, Michael McCrum.
The case centers on Perry’s June 2013 veto of the $7.5 million budget for the unit run by Lehmberg, after she refused his demand to resign following her drunken driving arrest and conviction.
Perry faces accusations of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity in connection with the threat and veto.
Right to veto?
According to McCrum, the indictment alleges that the circumstances around Perry’s veto threat amounted to a misuse of state money earmarked by the Legislature to fund the public integrity unit in Travis County run by Lehmberg.
The second charge alleges that he improperly used the veto threat to get her to resign following her arrest on a drunk driving charge. She stayed in office.
But the governor said under the state constitution he has the discretionary right to veto items in the state budget.
“I exercised this discretion,” he said.
Perry defended his actions, pointing to Lehmberg’s blood alcohol level at the time of her arrest in April 2013 and then her behavior during her arrest, which was captured on video and made public.
“Given that information and given that choice again, that is exactly what I would do again,” Perry said.
The governor said the indictment amounted to nothing more than “abuse of power.”
“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry said.
CNN affiliate KVUE reported that Perry will have to report to the Travis County Jail in Austin to be booked, fingerprinted and have his photo made for a mugshot.
Perry can continue to serve as governor while under indictment, KVUE reported. His attorneys could seek to have the charges thrown out, a motion that would delay the case, at the very least.
The charges have serious political implications, both in Texas and beyond. Perry is entering his final few months in office after a historic 14-year run in Austin.
Perry’s presidential prospects could be damaged. It’s an open secret he’s laying groundwork for a second presidential campaign after his disastrous 2012 effort.
The governor is scheduled to visit the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina in the coming weeks to meet with Republican activists and legislators. He has positioned himself as an early conservative alternative to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another GOP presidential contender.
Perry attorney David L. Botsford on Friday called the indictment a violence of the separation of powers, saying 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.”
The special prosecutor, McCrum, told the San Antonio Express-News the claim the case was politically motivated was “not only ridiculous, but it’s disappointing.”
“I think it’s important to note that while that may be good rhetoric for the state, there’s absolutely no basis for it,” he told the newspaper.
“My investigation not only did not involve that, but my conversations with Mr. Botsford have never involved that. It’s always been about the facts and the law. That’s what this case is all about — the facts and the law, and nothing else.”
Support for Perry
Even so, a number of national political figures — on both sides of the political line — came to Perry’s defense.
“Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy,” David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s former top adviser, said in a post on Twitter.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, also took to Twitter on the issue: “the indictment of @GovernorPerry seems politically motivated and ridiculous. Major overreach and an encroachment on his veto authority.”
But the Texas Democratic Party called on Perry to resign, saying in a written statement that the governor “brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas.
“We call on Governor Perry to immediately step down from office. Texans deserve real leadership and this is unbecoming of our governor.”
Perry’s indictment is the first of a sitting governor in Texas on such charges since 1917 when, according to The Dallas Morning News, James “Pa” Ferguson was indicted for vetoing funding for the University of Texas in an attempt to push out faculty and staff. He resigned.
CNN’s Steve Brusk, Dana Davidsen, Leslie Bentz and Peter Hamby contributed to this report.