UPDATE: Texas Gov. Rick Perry vowed Saturday to fight charges that he abused his power by trying to pressure a district attorney to resign, saying in a televised news conference the indictment was politically motivated. “We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” he said.
AUSTIN, Texas — A grand jury has indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, saying he abused his power by trying to pressure a district attorney to resign.
The two felony counts against Perry, a Republican, stem from his threat to veto funding for a statewide public integrity unit run by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg unless she stepped down, the special prosecutor in the case, Michael McCrum, said Friday.
Perry attorney David L. Botsford on Friday called the indictment a “political abuse of the court system.” He said the action “violated the separation of powers” 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.”
Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum told the San Antonio Express-News said the allegation was “not only ridiculous, but it’s disappointing because of the many conversations that I’ve had with Mr. Botsford where he knows full well that was never an issue in our discussions.”
“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.”
CNN affiliate KVUE reported that Perry will have to report to the Travis County Jail in the capital of Austin to be booked, fingerprinted and have his photo made for a mugshot.
Perry is expected to make a statement from the State Capitol at 2 p.m. (3 p.m. ET) Saturday, his office said.
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 grand jury in Travis County indicted the governor on charges of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity.
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.
The Republican running to replace Perry is state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who will have to answer questions about the legal drama. Abbott is facing off against Democratic star Wendy Davis, whose campaign is already making hay of Friday’s news.
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 has positioned himself as an early conservative alternative to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another GOP presidential contender.
Perry 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.
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.
“I’m ready to go forward (in) my task as district attorney. In this case, the grand jury has spoken and I’m going forward to carry out the duties that have been bestowed upon me,” McCrum said.
“I feel confident about the charges that have been filed,” he added.
Mary Anne Wiley, general counsel for Perry’s office, said the “veto in question was made in accordance” with the authority “afforded to every governor” under the state’s constitution.
“We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail,” Wiley said in a statement.
Political opponents of Perry, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, called for his resignation.
“Governor Rick Perry has brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas,” the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement. “We call on Governor Perry to immediately step down from office. Texans deserve real leadership and this is unbecoming of our governor.”