Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Saturday bitterly attacked his indictment by a state grand jury on two felony charges for making good on a veto threat as "outrageous" and "an abuse of power."
"We don't settle political differences with indictments in this country," the three-term governor said at a brief news conference at the Statehouse in Austin. "It is outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state's Constitution.
"This indictment amounts to nothing more than abuse of power — and I cannot and I will not allow that to happen," Perry added. "I intend to fight against those who would erode our state's Constitution and laws, purely for political purposes, and I intend to win."
Perry, 63, the Lone Star State's longest-serving governor, was indicted by a grand jury on felony charges of abuse of official capacity and of coercion of a public servant. The offenses carry penalties of up to 99 years in prison. Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted.
The Republican, who is not seeking re-election this fall, is considering a presidential bid in 2016. He ran for the White House in 2012. He was first elected governor in 2000.
The indictment, announced by Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, resulted from an investigation of whether Perry violated state law when he followed through on a veto threat last year. He promised to keep $7.5 million in state aid over two years from the public integrity unit of the Travis County District Attorney's Office.
Democrat Rosemary Lehmberg is the district attorney. The investigative unit is based in Austin, a heavily Democratic city where the grand jury was seated. The rest of Texas is heavily Republican.
In April 2013, Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving after being found to have a blood-alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit for driving. She served about half of a 45-day jail sentence with the conviction.
Perry called for Lehmberg's resignation, citing a decline in public confidence, but she refused to step down. A video made at the county jail when she was arrested showed Lehmberg shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell, and sticking her tongue out.
In his news conference on Saturday, Perry slammed the indictment as "this farce of a prosecution" that "will be revealed for what it is. And those responsible will be held accountable.
"I intend to explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter and bring it to a swift conclusion," Perry added. "I am confident that we will ultimately prevail."
The governor defended last year's veto and pledged to defend it throughout the process.
"I exercised this authority to veto funding for an office whose leadership had lost the public's confidence by acting inappropriately and unethical," Perry said. "I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto — and I'll continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor.
"As governor, I took an oath to faithfully uphold the Constitution of the state of Texas," he said at the outset of the session. "A pledge that I have kept every day as I have worked on behalf of Texans for the last 14 years.
"That's the same Constitution that clearly outlines the authority of any governor to veto items at his or her discretion."
In response to a question, Perry denied that the indictment would undermine public confidence in him as the state's chief executive — reiterating that the central issue in his vetoing the funds was Lehmberg's own credibility.
"We have seen an office in the form of the Travis County District Attorney's Office, the lead legal individual for criminal affairs in this county and overseeing public officials who conducted themselves in an incredibly inappropriate way, stopped for a DWI with a blood-alcohol level almost three times the legal limit," he said.
"An individual who, when booked in had to be restrained, was abusive to law enforcement, was kicking the door.
"I think Americans and Texans who have seen this agree with me that that is not an individual who is heading up an office that we can afford to fund," Perry said. "Now, the people of Travis County may decide that that is the type of individual that they want in that office.
"But as the governor of the state of Texas, and as the individual who has the authority constitutionally to decide whether we're going to spend state dollars on that, I made that decision — and I said no.
"And given that information and given that choice again, that is exactly what I would do."
He also disagreed with a reporter's question that his threat to veto the funds in the first place went against his authority.
"What we're seeing is a political decision that has been made in Travis County. I'm going to continue to do my job," Perry said. "I'm going to continue to deal with the big, important issues that are important to the people of the state of Texas — and for that matter, this country."
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