Governor Perry Responds To Grand Jury Indictment

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

Q: What started all this?

A: After Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunken driving in April 2013, Perry threatened to veto $7.5 million in funding for the state's ethics watchdog unit in her office unless she resigned. Lehmberg is an elected Democrat and Republicans have long accused her public corruption prosecutors of targeting conservatives.

Q: Was Perry allowed to veto the money?

A: Yes. The governor has line-item veto authority to nix any spending in the state budget.

Q: Then why the grand jury investigation?

A: Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry vetoed the funding for her office. A left-leaning watchdog group filed a formal complaint that accused Perry of trying to leverage his power and force an elected official from office. A Texas judge then assigned a special prosecutor to investigate.

Q: How strong are the charges against Perry?

A: He is accused of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, which are both felonies and carry possible prison sentences. But legal experts and even some Democrats believe getting a conviction will be challenging, largely because there is no question that Perry wields veto authority. They say proving this went beyond hardball politics will be a difficult bar for prosecutors to reach.

Q: What's next for Perry?

A: The longest-serving governor in Texas history didn't seek re-election and will step down in January after 14 years in office. He's expected to be formally arraigned in an Austin court as early as next week and has given no indication the charges will stop him from considering another run for the White House. But having the word "indictment" associated with Perry could tarnish his image if he decides to seek the presidency.

Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry vowed Saturday to fight a criminal indictment in a defiant response that showed an old slice of swagger that he's kept holstered lately while seeking to remake his image for a potential 2016 presidential run.

Perry called two felony counts of abuse of power issued by an Austin grand jury "outrageous" and made no apologies for his 2013 veto that prompted a criminal investigation against the longest-serving governor in Texas history.

Perry made it clear he will finish his term that ends in January and said it was the investigation against him — and not his actions — that amounted to an abuse of power. A Travis County grand jury on Friday indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto state funds to the local district attorney, an elected Democrat, who refused to resign following a drunken-driving arrest.

"We don't settle political differences with indictments in this country," Perry told reporters outside his office in the Texas Capitol. "It is outrageous that someone would use political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state's constitution."

Perry, the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted, again dismissed the charges as nakedly political and said he would not hesitate to execute a veto under the same circumstances again.

"The details of my decision-making were very clear. I said early on that I was going to clearly veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I had lost confidence in," Perry said. "And I had lost confidence."

Perry's veto cut $7.5 million in funding to the state's ethics watchdog housed in the Travis County district attorney's office. A Texas state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a formal complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group, which accused Perry of trying to leverage his power to force the resignation of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.

That unit of public corruption investigators is based in Austin, a liberal haven in mostly conservative Texas and a city that reliably elects Democrats to serve as district attorney.

Perry said he was confident that he would prevail and vowed that those responsible for this "farce of a prosecution" would be held accountable.

FULL STATEMENT
“As governor, I took an oath to faithfully uphold the constitution of Texas, a pledge that I have kept every day as I've worked on behalf of Texans for the last 14 years. This same constitution clearly outlines the authority of any governor to veto items at his or her discretion. Just as I have following every legislative session during my service as governor, I exercised this authority to veto funding for an office whose leadership had lost the public's confidence by acting inappropriately and unethically.

“I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto, and will continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor. We don't settle political differences with indictments in this country. 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 an abuse of power and I cannot, and will not, allow that to happen. I intend to fight against those who would erode our state's constitution and laws purely for political purposes, and I intend to win. I will explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter and bring it to a swift conclusion. I am confident we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and that those responsible will be held to account.”


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