A steamed Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Saturday decried a Travis County grand jury's indictment of him on two felony counts, saying allegations that he abused his power by threatening to veto funding for the state's anti-corruption unit were politically motivated.
"We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country," Perry said in a short 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."
Perry — who followed through on the threat because Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who had pleaded guilty to drunken driving, refused his request to step down — said his actions were protected by the state Constitution, and that he and his attorneys would aggressively fight the charges. They include abuse of official capacity, which carries a potential penalty of five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, which has a penalty of two to 10 years.
"I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes and I intend to win," he 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."
The legal inquiry began last summer after an ethics complaint was filed alleging that Perry had improperly used a veto to deny funding for the unit, which is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office and focuses on government corruption and tax fraud.
Perry said he stood by his decision, citing his lost faith in Lehmberg after her drunken driving arrest. This was someone who "had to be restrained, was abusive to law enforcement,” he said.
The indictment seriously complicates Perry's possible presidential ambitions and casts a pall on what had been a few big weeks for the Texas governor. He had made national headlines for railing against the Obama administration for a perceived lack of response to the humanitarian crisis on the Texas-Mexico border, then reallocating funds to send National Guard troops there himself.
Now, he's in the spotlight for being the first Texas governor indicted in almost a century.
Michael McCrum, the special investigator in the case, said he expected that the governor would come to court, be arraigned and be given official notice of his charges sometime in the coming week.
After Perry spoke Saturday, Will Hailer, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, talked to reporters, saying that the governor has “violated the public’s trust” and needs to step down.
“The only way politics is being played in this case is when the governor went after the public integrity unit to try to shut down funding,” he said.
Here's the full statement that Perry gave Saturday:
“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.”