AUSTIN — Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry vowed Saturday to fight a criminal indictment in a defiant response that showed an old slice of swagger that he’s kept holstered lately while seeking to remake his image for a potential 2016 presidential run.
Perry called two felony counts of abuse of power issued by an Austin grand jury “outrageous” and made no apologies for his 2013 veto that prompted a criminal investigation against the longest-serving governor in Texas history.
Perry made it clear he will finish his term that ends in January and said it was the investigation against him — not his actions — that amounted to an abuse of power. A Travis County grand jury on Friday indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto state funds to the local district attorney, an elected Democrat, who refused to resign following a drunken-driving arrest.
“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry told reporters outside his office in the Capitol. “It is outrageous that someone would use political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution.”
Perry, the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted, again dismissed the charges as nakedly political and said he would not hesitate to execute a veto under the same circumstances again.
“The details of my decision-making were very clear. I said early on that I was going to clearly veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I had lost confidence in,” Perry said. “And I had lost confidence.”
Perry’s veto cut $7.5 million in funding to the state’s ethics watchdog housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office. A Texas state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a formal complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group that accused Perry of trying to leverage his power to force the resignation of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
That unit of public corruption investigators is based in Austin, a liberal haven in mostly conservative Texas and a city that regularly elects Democrats to serve as district attorney.
Perry said he was confident that he would prevail and vowed that those responsible for this “farce of a prosecution” would be held accountable.
Many Democrats criticized Perry’s aggressive reaction to the indictment and accused him of trying to shift the blame. Yet state Sen. Wendy Davis, the face of the party in Texas who’s running for governor, took a more cautious tone Saturday.
“The charges that were brought down by the grand jury are very, very serious,” Davis said, adding that she trusted the justice system to do its job.
Tensions between Republicans and the public integrity unit have simmered for years. Conservatives have long grumbled that the unit operates through a partisan lens and targets Republicans.
Former U.S. House Majority Tom DeLay and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, two Republicans, are among the biggest past names to have been indicted in Travis County on ethics charges. Hutchison was acquitted, and an appeals court overturned a guilty verdict against DeLay.