Prosecutor: ‘No plans’ to have Perry testify

Texas Gov. Rick Perry
FILE - In this Nov. 7, 2013 file photo, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Polk County Republican Party dinner in Des Moines, Iowa. For an ambitious group of Republican governors, next year's mid-term elections could be a springboard to bigger things in 2016. Just don't talk about the White House yet. An annual Republican Governors Association meeting this week included a bullish outlook for a party that will be defending 22 seats in 2014. (AP Photo/Justin Hayworth, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A special prosecutor said Friday that he does not plan to call Texas Gov. Rick Perry to testify before a grand jury investigating whether he abused his power by vetoing funding for public corruption prosecutors.

Michael McCrum spoke to reporters Friday in Austin before the expected meeting of a grand jury investigating Perry’s veto last year of $7.5 million in funding, which he tied publicly to the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.

“There’s no plans for that at this point,” McCrum said.

McCrum has said he had specific concerns about Perry’s conduct but declined to specify them. He wouldn’t say Friday why he didn’t plan to have Perry testify or how long the grand jury would take.

“Obviously, I don’t want this to stretch too long,” McCrum said. “It’s not in anybody’s best interest – not the governor’s, not the state of Texas, not the people of Travis County. And so we’re working diligently, but I’m not going to sacrifice quality of investigation for speed.”

Perry said Lehmberg should resign after she was arrested and plead guilty to drunken driving in April 2013. A video recording made at the jail showed Lehmberg shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out at deputies.

Lehmberg served about half of her 45-day jail sentence but stayed in office, despite Perry’s assertions that her behavior was inappropriate.

Perry eventually carried out his threat to veto the money. No one disputes that he is allowed to veto measures approved by the Legislature, including portions or all of the state budget. But the governor has been accused of coercion since he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so in an attempt to pressure Lehmberg to quit.

The ongoing investigation into abuse of power could affect Perry’s political prospects as he considers a second run for president in 2016. The longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry is not seeking a fourth full term this year.

Lehmberg, a Democrat, faced pressure from other high-profile Republicans in addition to Perry to give up her post. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit for driving, and she eventually served about half of a 45-day jail sentence.

Meanwhile, the jail video led to an investigation of Lehmberg by a separate grand jury, which decided she should not be removed for official misconduct.

Lehmberg oversees the office’s public integrity unit, which investigates statewide allegations of corruption and political wrongdoing. Perry said he wouldn’t allow Texas to fund the unit while Lehmberg remained in charge.

He used his line-item veto power to remove funding for the unit from the Texas budget.

Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning watchdog group, filed an ethics complaint alleging that Perry violated state law by trying to coerce Lehmberg into resigning. A special prosecutor has been appointed and a grand jury convened.

Several top aides to Perry already have appeared before the grand jury, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel.

Perry and his aides say he didn’t break any law in the case.

“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto power afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution, and we remain ready and willing to assist with this inquiry,” spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said last month.

Perry’s office has declined to say whether he was issued a subpoena to testify. Perry has hired a criminal defense lawyer for the matter at the state’s expense.

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