Texas Governor Rick Perry, a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, was booked on political corruption charges inside an Austin courthouse as supporters chanted his name outside.
Perry, 64, smiling as he entered and left the courthouse today, told reporters that he would prevail because the charges were “baseless” and an attack on “our system of government.”
“I’m going to fight this injustice with every fiber of my being and we will prevail,” Perry said.
Perry, 64, the longest serving governor in Texas history, is accused of abusing his authority by trying to force out the Democratic prosecutor whose office probes government corruption across Texas. Perry’s action against District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg came after she was convicted of drunk driving. She refused to step down, and Perry subsequently vetoed funding for her office.
Perry’s defense lawyers have said his indictment by a grand jury last week was an attempt to criminalize politics and damage his prospects as a potential White House candidate.
Perry said today that the charges are an “attack” on the governor’s constitutional powers and the right to free speech. He said any governor, Democrat or Republican, would expect the leader of the anti-corruption office to live up to high standards of conduct. Supporters gathered near the governor repeatedly cheered as the governor spoke.
“It is our system of Constitutional checks and balances being challenged here today,” Perry said.
After entering a processing room at the courthouse, Perry took out his wallet to show a deputy his driver’s license as proof of identity. Defense lawyer David Botsford stood at Perry’s side and they patted each other on the back.
Authorities took Perry’s mug shot, which shows him smiling without his glasses in a light blue tie and pressed white shirt. After distributing one version of the photo, police provided a new version, saying it had a better ratio of the width to the height.
Today, RICKPac, a political action committee supporting Perry, released a video juxtaposing arrest and jail video of Lehmberg, including images of her performing a roadside inebriation test and being restrained, with Perry speaking about how he “wholeheartedly” stands behind his veto, which labeled Texans for Public Justice a “liberal watchdog” group.
The nonprofit group filed the initial complaint that led to the investigation of Perry. The governor’s bid to remove Lehmberg was part of a cover-up designed to derail an investigation of a cancer-research funding program he championed, the organization said.
The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has been criticized for funneling state funds to Republican donors, and a former official was indicted last year for mishandling grant money.
Prosecutors allege Perry abused his office by misusing state funds in a manner “contrary to the oath of office he took as a public servant.” He also tried to coerce Lehmberg into failing to carry out her elected responsibilities by threatening to veto a measure already approved by the legislature, according to the document.
The abuse of official capacity charge is a first-degree felony and carries a possible prison sentence of five to 99 years. The coercion charge is a third-degree felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison.
Speaking at a news conference yesterday in the state capital, Perry lawyer Tony Buzbee said a team has been formed “to defend an indictment that is absolutely improper.”
“This is wrong, and what the governor did was right,” Buzbee said.
Travis County has a history of indictments and prosecutions of state and national politicians, including former Republican House Speaker Tom DeLay and former Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, when she was the state treasurer under Lehmberg’s predecessor Ronnie Earle.
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