Calling the charges against him a “farce,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday brushed off a county prosecutor who last week persuaded a grand jury to indict the state’s chief executive on charges that he abused his power by cutting her office’s funding.
Perry last year pressed Travis County Prosecutor Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, to resign after she was found guilty of driving while intoxicated in April of last year, and was sentenced to 45 days in jail. When she refused, Perry vetoed $7.5 million in funding for a public integrity division overseen by her office.
Perry, who ran for president in 2012 and is widely seen as one of the likely candidates for the GOP nomination in 2016, defended his veto in an appearance on Fox News Sunday yesterday, saying that faced with the decision again, he would do the same thing.
“The highest-ranking prosecutor in Travis County was stopped for driving while drunk almost three times over the legal limit,” Perry said. “She was abusing law officials. She had to be restrained.”
Police video of Lehmberg shows her visibly upset at being handcuffed and placed in a chair meant to restrain her movements, though she appears to be reasonably cogent. Nevertheless, a blood test determined that she was drunk, and Lehmberg ultimately pled guilty. A court convicted her and sentenced her to 45 days in jail, of which she served a little less than half.
The indictment filed last week charged Perry with “abuse of official capacity” and “coercion of a public servant.” Both felonies, the first carries a potential penalty of up to 99 years in prison, and the second, up to 10 years.
A number of Democrats were quick to jump on the news of the indictment.
For example, Texas Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro wrote on Twitter, “For the sake of Texas, Governor Perry should resign following his indictment on two criminal felony counts involving abuse of office.”
But Texas Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis, who is running to replace Perry as governor when he steps down at the end of the year, was more circumspect. While saying that serious “potential crimes” might be involved, she said, “I trust that the justice system will do its job.”
David Axelrod, a close advisor to President Obama, was even more dubious about the charges. On Twitter, he wrote, “Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy.”
Under Texas law, the governor has “line-item veto” authority, allowing the chief executive to approve broad spending bills while eliminating specific elements of them. Perry, his attorney, and his spokesperson all spoke out against the indictment, characterizing it as an attempt at political revenge rather than a justifiable prosecution.
“That’s not the way we settle political differences in this country,” Perry said. “We settle [them] at the ballot box.”
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