Perry calls indictment 'abuse of power'

 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) forcefully stood behind his actions after he was indicted on Friday, and called the decision to charge him "an abuse of power."

Perry was indicted on felony charges by a grand jury in Austin for allegedly abusing his veto power to force the resignation of a Democratic prosecutor.

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The charges point to a threat Perry made to veto funding for the public corruption unit under Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, unless she resigned after a drunk driving arrest. She did not resign and Perry vetoed the funding.

Prosecutors say the threat was abuse of his official capacity and coercion of a public servant, but Perry stands by his actions.

"I exercised this authority to veto funding for an office whose leadership had lost the public's confidence," he said at a press conference Saturday in Austin, the state capital. "I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto." 

Perry ran for president in 2012 and appears to be considering another run, having made high profile visits to Iowa.

He said the indictment was politically motivated. 

"We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country," he said.

The governor went on rhetorical offense, setting up a situation where both Perry and the prosecution accuse each other of abusing power.

"This indictment amounts to nothing more than abuse of power," Perry said.

Perry also focused on the details of Lehmberg's arrest last year in an effort to show why he was calling on her to resign. He called her "an individual who when booked in had to be restrained, who was abusive to law enforcement."

The Austin American-Statesman reported last year that recording show Lehmberg resisting police officers during her arrest.

Earlier Saturday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who could face Perry in a Republican presidential primary, defended his home state's governor.

"Rick Perry is a friend, he's a man of integrity – I am proud to stand with Rick Perry," Cruz wrote on Facebook. "The Texas Constitution gives the governor the power to veto legislation, and a criminal indictment predicated on the exercise of his constitutional authority is, on its face, highly suspect."

Two other potential Republican presidential contenders, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, defended Perry. Bush called the indictment "politcally motivated and ridiculous," while Jindal wrote that it is a "political witch hunt."

The Democratic National Committee, though, pounced. "For a guy who prides himself on being Mr. Law & Order, he seems to have little respect for the rule of law," DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee said in a statement. "This isn’t a partisan witch hunt. It’s our legal process."

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), seen as a rising star who could run for governor one day, called on Perry to resign.

David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama, sang a different tune, coming to Perry's defense, writing, "Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy."

The special prosecutor in the case, Michael McCrum, has defended himself from the criticism that the indictment is politically motivated.

McCrum was appointed by a judge last year. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney under President George H.W. Bush and had the backing of Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, as well as Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett, to be appointed a U.S. attorney under President Obama in 2010, before McCrum withdrew his name from consideration.

Before Perry's press conference on Saturday, McCrum told the San Antonio Express-News that the idea politics is involved in the indictment is "not only ridiculous, but it's disappointing."

"It's always been about the facts and the law," he added.

But Perry came out swinging in defending himself in the less than 10 minute press conference. He also got in a jab at the Obama administration, pivoting to border security.

He has focused on the issue as the surge of unaccompanied children arriving in Texas has drawn attention, and he has ordered the National Guard to help secure the border.

"We have a border that is not secure because of what the federal government has failed to do," he said.

Perry vowed to fight the charges and to seek to expedite the process.

"Those responsible will be held accountable," he added.

This post was updated at 4:30 p.m.

 

 

 

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