Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Saturday that the indictment against him was an “outrageous” abuse of power and vowed to fight it.
“This indictment amounts to nothing more than abuse of power and I cannot and will not allow that to happen,” Perry said at a news conference on Saturday.
Perry spoke a day after a grand jury indicted the Republican on two felony counts of abuse of power for making good on a veto threat. He dismissed the prosecution as a “farce.”
A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to veto $7.5 million over two years for the Public Integrity Unit run by the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
Lehmberg, a Democrat, was convicted of drunken driving, but refused Perry’s calls to resign.
The possible 2016 presidential hopeful is dismissing the charges as nakedly political. Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted.
The governor said he was absolutely correct in seeking Lehmberg’s resignation, and given the chance to do it all over again, he would.
He predicted victory in the courts, and said that ultimately, the people who engineered the indictment will have a price to pay. “Those responsible will be held accountable,” Perry said.
The indictments are related to Perry vetoing funding for a Travis County unit investigating public corruption last year because the Democratic official heading the office refused to resign after being convicted of drunken driving.
The investigative unit is based in Austin, a heavily Democratic city where the grand jury was seated. The rest of Texas is heavily Republican.
The unit Lehmberg oversees investigates statewide allegations of corruption and political wrongdoing. It led the investigation against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican who in 2010 was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for taking part in a scheme to influence elections in his home state — convictions later vacated by an appeals court.
Mary Anne Wiley, Perry’s general counsel, predicted Perry ultimately will be cleared of the charges against him — abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” she said.
David Botsford, Perry’s defense attorney, whose $450-per hour fees are being paid for by state funds, said he was outraged by the action.
“This clearly represents political abuse of the court system, and there is no legal basis in this decision,” Botsford said in a statement. “Today’s action, which violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution, is nothing more than an effort to weaken the constitutional authority granted to the office of Texas governor, and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a grand jury to punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor.”
Several top aides to Perry appeared before grand jurors, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. Perry did not testify.
Abuse of official capacity is a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison. Coercion of a public servant is a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.
No one disputes that Perry is allowed to veto measures approved by the Legislature. But the left-leaning Texans for Public Justice government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint accusing the governor of coercion because he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so in an attempt to pressure Lehmberg to quit.
“We’re pleased that the grand jury determined that the governor’s bullying crossed the line into illegal behavior,” said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice. “The complaint had merit; serious laws were potentially broken.”
Not everyone is convinced.
“My first impression is, ‘What’s the big deal?’ ” said Allan Saxe, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “The governor has a right to a veto — and a line-item veto.
“When a governor says ‘I’m going to veto something,’ there’s power involved.”
Michael McCrum, the San Antonio-based special prosecutor, said he “took into account the fact that we’re talking about a governor of a state — and a governor of the state of Texas, which we all love.”
“Obviously that carries a lot of importance,” McCrum said. “But when it gets down to it, the law is the law.”