Texas Governor Rick Perry will go to the Travis County criminal courthouse in Austin to be booked on charges of public corruption, a day after his defense team rejected the indictment as a political hatchet job.
Perry lawyer Tony Buzbee said the grand jury’s action last week was an attempt to criminalize politics. The governor questioned the timing of the charges in an interview as “suspect,” given his potential presidential run in 2016.
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Perry, a Republican, is accused of abusing his authority by trying to force out a Democratic prosecutor whose office probes government corruption across Texas. Perry’s alleged move against Rosemary Lehmberg came after she was convicted of drunk driving. When she refused to step down, Perry vetoed funding for her office.
According to Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that filed the initial complaint, Perry’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 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.
Buzbee said Perry, 64, was following the state constitution and exercising his First Amendment rights when he vetoed funding for Lehmberg’s office, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit. Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor, will fight the accusations “100 percent and at the end of the day he will prevail,” Buzbee said at a press conference yesterday. Perry is to arrive at the courthouse today at 4:45 p.m., he said.
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. The video labeled Texans for Public Justice a “liberal watchdog” group.
Michael McCrum, the former federal prosecutor brought in to lead the Perry investigation, expressed confidence in charges he said are based on more than 40 interviews and hundreds of documents.
“I looked at the law and I looked at the facts,” McCrum said last week. “The grand jury has spoken that at least there’s probable cause he committed two felony crimes.”
Perry was indicted Aug. 15 for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. The abuse of official capacity charge is a first-degree felony and carries a possible prison sentence of five to 99 years, McCrum said. The coercion charge is a third-degree felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison.
McCrum was supported by both of Texas's Republican U.S. senators when vying for the job of U.S. attorney for San Antonio. He withdrew his name from consideration in late 2010.
Lehmberg has declined to comment on the case through a spokeswoman.
Perry defended himself during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio program yesterday.
“This needs to be exposed for the absolute corrupt process that it is,” Perry said. “The timing is suspect, to say the least.”
Perry supporters are planning a rally outside the Austin courthouse at 5 p.m. today, shortly after he is to be booked by law enforcement officials, which will probably include fingerprinting and a mug-shot. Texas Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri said his organization isn’t sponsoring the gathering, though his staff will take the afternoon off to attend.
“We want our governor to see friendly faces he recognizes, so he’ll see how much we appreciate him standing up” against an unjust prosecution, Munisteri said in a phone interview.
The party chairman called Perry’s indictment part of a Democratic plot to hamper the governor’s anticipated presidential bid. Perry’s prospective candidacy appeared to be gaining traction in recent weeks as he toured Iowa and summoned the National Guard to handle an immigration crisis at the Texas-Mexico border.
“This is about the Democrats,” Munisteri said of Perry’s indictment. “They want a mug shot of Governor Perry; they want him to be fingerprinted.”
If the governor can quickly clear himself of the charges, specifically before the Iowa caucuses in February 2016, Munisteri predicted this may boost Perry’s political career.
“Not only will it not be fatal to his chances, he could become a folk hero,” Munisteri said. “People like people who stand up for themselves and show they don’t buckle under pressure.”
Will Hailer, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, rejected suggestions Democrats are behind Perry’s indictment. He said Perry’s lawyers are trying to whip up public sentiment to counteract difficulty he’ll encounter in defeating the charges.
“Perry has to win two battles –- the courtroom battle and the public-perception battle,” Hailer said in a phone interview, noting that he plans to participate in a counter-demonstration against Perry outside the Austin courthouse today. “I think Perry’s legal team is trying to win this in the press because it will be so hard for him to win in the courtroom.”
The case is The State of Texas v. Perry, D-1-DC-14-100139, 390th Judicial District of Travis County, Texas (Austin).
To contact the reporters on this story: Laurel Brubaker Calkins in Houston at email@example.com; Darrell Preston in Austin, Texas, at firstname.lastname@example.org