Texas' Perry indicted for coercion for veto threat

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 15, 2014 at 8:43 pm •  Published: August 15, 2014
Advertisement
;

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for allegedly abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption — making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state's first indicted governor in nearly a century.

A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $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.

Though the Republican governor now faces two felony indictments, politics dominates the case. Lehmberg is based in Austin, which is heavily Democratic, in contrast to most of the rest of fiercely conservative Texas. The grand jury was comprised of Austin-area residents.

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 L. 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 himself did not testify, though.

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.

In office since 2000 and already the longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry isn't seeking re-election in November.

Continue reading this story on the...