Former Texas Governor Rick Perry faces revised charges he abused his office by threatening to veto funding for an ethics task force if its leader didn’t resign after a drunken driving conviction.
Perry’s indictment was amended Friday by prosecutors to address flaws pinpointed last month by the Texas judge overseeing the case.
Judge Bert Richardson last month refused Perry’s bid to dismiss the charges at this stage of the case. However, the judge agreed the indictment didn’t specify how the former governor’s use of his official veto power in this particular instance was a crime. Rather than throw out the charges, Richardson gave the state the chance to amend the indictment.
“The grand jury’s indictment charges, and the state will prove, that the defendant broke the law in two different ways,” Michael McCrum, special prosecutor for Perry’s case, said in a filing in state court in Austin. McCrum said he’ll prove at trial that Perry used “a lawful power in an unlawful manner and for unlawful purposes,” and that he conveyed “an illegal threat in a similarly unlawful manner and for unlawful purposes.”
Perry, a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican U.S. presidential nomination, was indicted in August on two counts of abusing his authority by carrying out a threat to slash funding for a political rival who refused to step down after displaying what Perry considered questionable judgment.
Perry, Texas’s longest-serving governor, left office last month after opting not to stand for re-election. He’s pressed on with speaking tours in early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire while his lawyers try to put the criminal case behind him. Perry has said he’ll formally announce whether he’s running for president in May or June.
The former governor, 64, has blasted the charges against him as an attempt to criminalize politics. He claims the Texas Constitution gives him the absolute right to veto any budget line item for any reason and the U.S. Constitution gives him the right to say whatever he wants about his official powers.
Perry’s critics claim he was motivated in 2013 to remove Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, and slash funding for the ethics task force under her control because it was probing a cancer-research funding program that benefited some of his political donors. He denies the claim.
McCrum fleshed out the allegations against Perry in a document known as a bill of particulars.
The first count of the indictment alleges that Perry “misused his gubernatorial power to veto a legislatively approved appropriation of funds” for the ethics unit “in order to harm” the task force and its leader “as a direct result” of Lehmberg’s refusal to resign a post “over which defendant Perry had no direct control,” according to McCrum’s filing. As a result, Perry “misused government property” in violation of his sworn duty to execute his official authority impartially and solely for the benefit of the public good, McCrum wrote.
The second count of the indictment says Perry “caused the communication of an unlawful threat” to the head of the ethics unit because he “did not approve of historical and current management decisions” regarding the unit’s operations and “therefore wanted to coerce” Lehmberg into resigning her elected position or Perry would eliminate the unit’s funding, McCrum said in the filing.
McCrum also substituted language in the second count to clarify that Perry and the county prosecutor were members of two different governmental entities, and that the former governor was therefore not covered by a statutory exemption that the ex-governor’s lawyers claim excuse his actions.
Tony Buzbee, Perry’s lead lawyer, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on McCrum’s filing.
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