Texas Gov. Rick Perry's indictment on Friday by a state grand jury on charges stemming from a funding veto he made last year is "outrageous" and nothing more than "the criminalization of political differences," Democratic pollster and analyst Doug Schoen told Newsmax.
"I've never seen anything like this in politics," he said. "It looked to me like what Perry was doing was right, reasonable and responsible."
Schoen cautioned, however, that the Democrats needed to be very careful of using the indictment to dash Perry's chances should he choose to run for the White House in 2016.
"It is one of the worst things that the Democrats could do: to try to go after a partisan Republican with a partisan criminal indictment," he said. "It is a further sign of really the destruction of our nonpartisan — seemingly nonpartisan — criminal justice system.
"It is very depressing, sad and just plain wrong."
Perry, 63, the Lone Star State's longest-serving governor, was indicted on charges of abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony that carries a penalty of five to 99 years in prison, and of coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.
The Republican, who is not seeking re-election this fall, is the state's first indicted governor in nearly a century. Perry was first elected to the Statehouse in 2000. He is considering a presidential bid in 2016. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2012.
Mary Anne Wiley, Perry's general counsel, defended the governor's action and predicted victory over the indictment.
"The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution," Wiley said in a statement. "We will continue to aggressively defend the governor's lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail."
David Botsford, the governor's private attorney, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In announcing the indictment, Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum said he "took into account the fact that we're talking about a governor of a state — and a governor of the state of Texas, which we all love."
"Obviously that carries a lot of importance," he said. "But when it gets down to it, the law is the law."
McCrum, who is based in San Antonio, spent months presenting evidence and calling witness while investigating whether Perry broke the law when he publicly promised to deny $7.5 million over two years to the public integrity unit of the office of Travis County Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving in April 2013 — with a blood alcohol content of nearly three times the legal limit for driving — but spurned Perry's calls to resign. She served about half of a 45-day jail term but remained in office.
Perry had contended that Lehmberg's behavior was inappropriate. A video recording made at the jail showed her shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell, and sticking her tongue out.
"The Travis County District Attorney appears to me to be way out of line, especially given her own conviction for drunken driving," Schoen told Newsmax on Friday.
Other top Republicans also called for Lehmberg to resign.
The unit she oversees spearheaded the investigation against former GOP House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was convicted in 2010 of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for participating part in a scheme to influence elections in Texas.
His acquittal last year is under appeal.
Several top Perry aides appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. The governor did not testify.
He was not subpoenaed to appear, McCrum said.
"That's prosecutorial discretion that I had," he said when asked why he did not question the governor.
Perry's indictment is just another of the many "witch hunts" by the county district attorney's office, former Houston-area broadcaster and GOP philanthropist Fran Fawcett told Newsmax.
"The Travis County District Attorney's Office has long been trying to ensnare Republican officeholders," she said in an email.
Fawcett referenced Ronnie Earle, Lehmberg's longtime Democratic predecessor who brought charges against DeLay. He also sought indictments against former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson when she was state treasurer and other Republicans.
Earle was first elected in 1976, serving until January 2009, when Lehmberg was sworn into office.
Fawcett said that Earle was "unrelenting in using extreme tactics of personal destruction to try and smear Republicans. That his successors would indict the governor for exercising his legitimate power is simply more of the same.
"The real crime here is the amount of taxpayer dollars the Travis County D.A.'s office uses in its witch hunts," she said.
That Perry could legally veto measures approved by the Legislature, including part or all of the state budget, was not under investigation.
But Texans for Public Justice, a liberal government watchdog group that filed the ethics complaint leading to the inquiry, accused Perry of coercion because he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so in trying to pressure Lehmberg to quit.
"We're pleased that the grand jury determined that the governor's bullying crossed the line into illegal behavior," said Craig McDonald, the organization's executive director. "The complaint had merit, serious laws were potentially broken."
In responses reflecting what Schoen told Newsmax, other strategists warned that Perry's indictment could very likely bolster any presidential bid.
"GOP state-level activists love nothing more right now than a leader with the guts to stand up against a system they believe is failing the people and protecting the elites," Republican strategist Bruce Haynes of Purple Strategies told Politico.
He urged Democrats eyeing the indictment as a weapon against the hard-driving Republican to "beware."
"Ultimately, this may not be a threat to Perry as much as it is a gift," Haynes said.
Democrats, meanwhile, called on Perry to quit.
"For the sake of Texas, Governor Perry should resign following his indictment on two criminal felony counts involving abuse of office," said Rep. Joaquin Castro, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa told the newspaper, "Gov. Rick Perry has brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas."
Perry's indictment is the first of its kind since 1917, when James "Pa" Ferguson was indicted on charges stemming from his veto of state funding to the University of Texas to try to unseat faculty and staff members that he opposed.
Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted, allowing his wife, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, to take over the governorship.
Shortly after the indictments were announced, Perry posted this message on Twitter:
The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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