Posted but not written by: Lou Sheehan
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas Is Indicted on Charge of Abuse of Power
By MANNY FERNANDEZAUG. 15, 2014
AUSTIN, Tex. — A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts on Friday, charging that he abused his power last year when he tried to pressure the district attorney here, a Democrat, to step down by threatening to cut off state financing to her office.
The indictment left Mr. Perry, a Republican, the first Texas governor in nearly 100 years to face criminal charges and presented a major roadblock to his presidential ambitions at the very time that he had been showing signs of making a comeback.
Grand jurors in Travis County charged Mr. Perry with abusing his official capacity and coercing a public servant, according to Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor assigned to the case.
The long-simmering case has centered on Mr. Perry’s veto power as governor. His critics asserted that he used that power as leverage to try to get an elected official — Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney in Travis County — to step down after her arrest on a drunken-driving charge last year. Ms. Lehmberg is Austin’s top prosecutor and oversees a powerful public corruption unit that investigates state, local and federal officials; its work led to the 2005 indictment of a former Republican congressman, Tom DeLay, on charges of violating campaign finance laws.
Following Ms. Lehmberg’s arrest, Mr. Perry and his aides threatened to veto $7.5 million in state funding for the public corruption unit in her office unless she resigned. The governor followed through on his threat, vetoing the money by stating that he could not support “continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”
Mr. Perry’s detractors said that his moves crossed the line from hardball politics to criminal acts that violated state laws. His aides denied that he did anything wrong and said that he acted in accordance with the veto power granted to every governor under the Texas Constitution. Ms. Lehmberg did not resign and remains in office.
The criminal indictment of the state’s chief executive shocked the Texas political world. Mr. Perry will be arraigned at a later date at the county criminal courthouse a few blocks from the governor’s mansion.
Mr. McCrum said it was a matter of procedure that anyone charged with a felony “will have to be booked in,” including the governor. Asked if Mr. Perry would have to have a mug shot taken and be fingerprinted, he added, “I imagine that’s included in that.”
The charge of abuse of official capacity carries a prison sentence of five to 99 years, and the charge of coercion of a public servant a two- to 10-year prison sentence.
Mr. Perry did not testify before the grand jury. David L. Botsford, Mr. Perry’s lawyer, defended the governor’s actions in a statement late Friday, saying the indictment set a “dangerous precedent” by allowing a grand jury to punish the governor’s use of his constitutional authority.
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“This clearly represents political abuse of the court system, and there is no legal basis in this decision,” Mr. Botsford said. “The facts of this case conclude that the governor’s veto was lawful, appropriate and well within the authority of the office of the governor.”
Mr. Perry has announced he is not seeking re-election and will leave office in January. He is considering a second run for president and has been crisscrossing the country and traveling abroad in recent months to raise his political profile and to show he has fully recovered from his unsuccessful 2012 campaign, which for a time turned him into a national punch line. Lately he seems to have rebounded, making numerous appearances on national talk shows to discuss his plan to deploy 1,000 National Guard troops to the border to combat crime and illegal immigration and receiving high praise from conservatives on his recent trip to Iowa.
The criminal investigation involving Mr. Perry and his aides began when a nonprofit government watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint last June accusing the governor of misdemeanor and felony offenses over his veto threat. A judge appointed a special prosecutor — Mr. McCrum, a San Antonio lawyer and former federal prosecutor — and the grand jury began hearing the case in April.
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Charges Against Rick Perry Outlined
Charges Against Rick Perry Outlined
A special prosecutor assigned to the case described the charges against the Texas governor, which include abusing his official capacity and coercing a public servant.
Video Credit By AP on Publish Date August 15, 2014.
A number of Mr. Perry’s aides have testified in recent weeks before the grand jury, including Ken Armbrister, director of the governor’s legislative office. A previous grand jury was sworn in last year to determine whether Ms. Lehmberg should be removed for official misconduct. Its term expired, however, and it appeared to not consider the issues surrounding Mr. Perry’s threat and veto.
Austin and Travis County are Democratic-dominated regions in a Republican-dominated state. Asked to respond to those who described the investigation as a partisan witch hunt, Mr. McCrum said: “I’m not going to get into that. That didn’t go into my consideration whatsoever.”
The indictment could mar the legacy of Mr. Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, as his tenure nears an end.
According to the state comptroller’s website, the governor’s office has paid his lawyer, Mr. Botsford, nearly $80,000 since June. Legal experts said that other state officials who have been accused of crimes relating to their duties have had to pay for their own defense, and this was one of the first times Texas taxpayers were paying the bill.
One Saturday night in April 2013, Ms. Lehmberg was found by sheriff’s deputies with an open bottle of vodka in the front passenger seat of her car in a church parking lot in Austin and was arrested on a drunken-driving charge. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
She plays a powerful role in Austin in overseeing the Public Integrity Unit. At the time of Mr. Perry’s veto last year, prosecutors in the unit had been investigating a state agency called the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The agency — one of Mr. Perry’s signature initiatives — came under scrutiny by state lawmakers after accusations of mismanagement and corruption; a former official there was indicted last year for his handling of an $11 million grant.
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Mr. Perry’s critics accused him of using Ms. Lehmberg’s arrest to try to dismantle the public corruption squad, to thwart the investigation into the cancer-research agency and to seize an opportunity to take down a prominent Democrat. The public corruption unit has been scaled down, but it continues its work largely using county financing.
“The governor has a legitimate statutory role in the legislative process,” said Craig McDonald, the director and founder of Texans for Public Justice, the group that filed the original complaint. “The governor had no authority over the district attorney’s job.”
But Mr. Perry’s supporters said the accusations amounted to an attempt to criminalize politics. Republican lawmakers had attempted for years to strip the public corruption unit of state financing, accusing it of politically motivated prosecutions.
The last Texas governor to face criminal charges was James E. “Pa” Ferguson, who was indicted in 1917 by a Travis County grand jury on embezzlement and eight other charges. His case also involved a veto that stirred anger: Mr. Ferguson vetoed the entire appropriation to the University of Texas because it had refused to fire certain faculty members. The state Senate voted to impeach him, but he resigned first.
Correction: August 15, 2014
An earlier version of this article and an accompanying summary described incorrectly the grand jury that issued the indictment against Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. It is a county, not a state, grand jury.
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