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Texas Gov. Rick Perry indicted for coercion for veto threat

FILE - This Aug. 8, 2014, file photo shows Governor Rick Perry as he speaks at the 2014 Red State Gathering, in Fort Worth, Texas. Perry has been indicted for abuse of power after carrying out a threat to veto funding for state public corruption prosecutors. The Republican governor is accused of abusing his official powers by publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the state public integrity unit at the Travis County District Attorney's office. He was indicted by an Austin grand jury Friday, Aug. 15. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

FILE - This Aug. 8, 2014, file photo shows Governor Rick Perry as he speaks at the 2014 Red State Gathering, in Fort Worth, Texas. Perry has been indicted for abuse of power after carrying out a threat to veto funding for state public corruption prosecutors. The Republican governor is accused of abusing his official powers by publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the state public integrity unit at the Travis County District Attorney's office. He was indicted by an Austin grand jury Friday, Aug. 15. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry yesterday 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 candidate 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. “We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

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.

When he ran for president in 2012, Perry plummeted from brief front-runner to national punchline, his once promising campaign doomed by a series of embarrassing gaffes, including his infamous “Oops moment” during a debate.

As he considers another White House run, Perry has re-made his cowboy image, donning stylish glasses, studying up on foreign and domestic affairs and promising conservatives nationally that he’s far more humble this time around.

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