Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted by a Travis County grand jury Friday after an investigation into whether he abused his power when he vetoed state funding for the county’s district attorney office, ABC affiliate KVUE reported Friday.
According to KVUE, Perry is charged with two class A misdemeanors – one count of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
The charges stem from Perry’s threat to veto state funding for the county’s public integrity office after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, would not resign following a DWI conviction.
The governor’s general counsel defended Perry Friday, saying the actions he took where within the authority granted to governors.
“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” Mary Anne Wiley, general counsel for Perry, said in a statement. “We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”
Democrats were quick to criticize Perry for the indictment, with Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, even calling for his resignation. “For the sake of Texas, Governor Perry should resign following his indictment on two criminal felony counts involving abuse of office,” he tweeted.
Special prosecutor Mike McCrum said he would work with Perry’s attorneys on Monday to set up a time for Perry to be arraigned.
If convicted, Perry could face jail time. The first count carries a penalty of 5-99 years in prison. The second count could result in two to 10 years in prison.
David L. Botsford, counsel for Gov. Perry, said in a statement that he’s “outraged and appalled that the Grand Jury has taken this action, given the governor’s constitutional right and duty to veto funding as he deems appropriate. This clearly represents political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision.
“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. Today’s action, which violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution, is nothing more than an effort to weaken the constitutional authority granted to the office of Texas governor, and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a grand jury to punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor.”
Perry has been taking another serious look at running for president and this indictment may put him on defense, forcing him to explain these abuse of power and coercion charges. The case, however, is far from clear cut. One Texas lawyer — a Democrat — pointed out to ABC News that the indictment from the grand jury in Austin is based on an old Texas law and a conviction is far less than certain.
But Perry will likely have to go to the county to be fingerprinted and have his mug shot taken, not the best of circumstances for a sitting governor or a presidential hopeful. So in the short term, the indictment creates a major distraction for him and that might keep him from running for president again.
With reporting by ABC’s Jeff Zeleny.