AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry arrived at a county courthouse Tuesday to be booked on felony charges that accuse him of abusing his power by carrying out a threat to veto funding to state public corruption prosecutors.
The Republican has dismissed the case as a political ploy, and he has laughed off concerns that it could be potentially unflattering as he strongly considers a second presidential run in 2016. Many top national conservatives have lined up to support him, including some potential future White House rivals.
The longest-serving governor in Texas history was indicted last week for coercion and official oppression for publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the state public integrity unit, which investigates wrongdoing by elected officials and is run by the Travis County district attorney's office. Perry threatened the veto if the county's Democratic district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, stayed in office after a drunken driving conviction.
Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry carried out the veto, drawing an ethics complaint from a left-leaning government watchdog group.
Perry was indicted on two felony counts by a grand jury in Austin, a liberal bastion in otherwise fiercely conservative Texas.
But he isn't letting the case keep him from a packed travel schedule that will take him to the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina over the next two weeks. After his 2012 presidential campaign flamed out, the Republican opted not to seek re-election as governor in November — leaving him more time to focus on rehabilitating his image nationally.
If convicted on both counts, Perry could face a maximum 109 years in prison — though legal experts across the political spectrum have said the case against him may be a tough sell to a jury. No one disputes that Perry has the right to veto any measures passed by the state Legislature, including any parts of the state budget.
But the complaint against Perry alleges that by publicly threatening a veto and trying to force Lehmberg to resign, he coerced her. The Republican judge assigned to the case has assigned a San Antonio-based special prosecutor who insists the case is stronger than it may outwardly appear.
Perry has hired a team of high-powered attorneys, who are being paid with state funds to defend him.
Perry is the first Texas governor to be indicted since 1917. Top Republicans have been especially quick to defend him, though, since a jail video following Lehmberg's April 2013 arrest showed the district attorney badly slurring her words, shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell, and sticking her tongue out. Her blood alcohol level was also three times the legal limit for driving.