AUSTIN (KXAN) — A grand jury has handed up an indictment against Gov. Rick Perry in connection with the investigation into an effort to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign.
The Texas governor was indicted on counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
At the center of the issue is a complaint about intimidation stemming from Perry’s threat to veto of $7.5 million in state funding to the Public Integrity Unit run by Lehmberg’s office. The threat came after she pleaded guilty to drunk driving and served a 45-day sentence; Perry called on her to step down but she refused to resign her position. Perry then vetoed the funding for the PIU.
The first count , abuse of official capacity, says the governor misused government property by threatening to defund the Travis County Public Integrity Unit in June of last year after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving.
The second count says Governor Perry misused his power by trying to coerce Lehmberg to resign or face the state pulling its funding from the Public Integrity Unit.
A grand jury was called to determine whether or not Perry broke the law when he threatened to veto the funding. As a result they issued indictments on two felony charges. If found guilty on the charges, Perry could be sentenced to a maximum 109 years in prison.
An indictment indicates the grand jury believes the state has a strong enough case to send to trial and is not a finding of guilt. Special prosecutor Michael McCrum oversaw the presentation to the grand jury who has been meeting on and off this summer and returned the indictment Friday afternoon.
“The first count of abuse of official capacity; It basically charges that on the day of the veto in 2013 that Perry intentionally or knowingly misused government property that had come into his custody or control,” McCrum said Friday afternoon.
McCrum told reporters that he plans to meet with Perry’s attorneys on Monday.
Perry will have to surrender to the Travis County Jail where he will likely be processed with what’s known as a walk-through booking. He will be fingerprinted and have a mugshot taken. It is not clear yet when the governor may turn himself in. It is a similar procedure as when two University of Texas football players were brought in on sexual assault charges.
“Unfortunately, this is typical Travis County liberalism, attacking powerful Republicans on phony political charges,” said Ray Sullivan, former Perry chief of staff, former presidential campaign communications director, and current advisor. “They’ve done it time and again, garnering headlines but almost always losing in court.”
Criminal defense attorney and special counsel to the governor, David Botsford released a statement saying the indictment is an example of abuse of political power.
“I am outraged and appalled that the Grand Jury has taken this action, given the governor’s constitutional right and duty to veto funding as he deems appropriate. This clearly represents political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision. The facts of this case conclude that the governor’s veto was lawful, appropriate and well within the authority of the office of the governor. Today’s action, which violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution, is nothing more than an effort to weaken the constitutional authority granted to the office of Texas governor, and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a grand jury to punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor.”
Perry’s office released a statement from his official counsel about an hour after his indictment saying:
“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution. We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.
Earlier Friday, Perry released the following statement celebrating Texas job growth:
“The only thing hotter than a Texas summer is Texas job growth, adding nearly 50,000 jobs in July. Every major industry in Texas added jobs meaning the diversity of our workforce is strong with opportunities for employers to hire good workers, and for workers to find jobs enabling them to meet the needs of their families.”
The Public Integrity Unit has three divisions; one looks at insurance fraud, for example, someone selling fake insurance policies. Another handles tax fraud involving motor fuels or businesses not paying gasoline taxes. The third division takes on accusations of fraud against state programs as well as accusations of corruption by politicians or other public officials.
Calls for resignation
Shortly after the indictment was announced, Gilberto Hinojosa, president of the Texas Democratic Party, released a statement calling for the governor to step down.
“We call on Governor Perry to immediately step down from office,” he said.”Texans deserve real leadership and this is unbecoming of our Governor.”
Democratic congressman Joaquin Castro, who represents the San Antonio area, tweeted calling for Perry’s resignation.
For the sake of Texas, Governor Perry should resign following his indictment on two criminal felony counts involving abuse of office.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) August 15, 2014
The last time it happened
According to the Associated Press, the indictment is the first of its kind since 1917, when Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson was indicted on charges stemming from his veto of state funding to the University of Texas in effort to unseat faculty and staff members he objected to. Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted — allowing his wife, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, to take over the governorship.
Famous indictments in Texas politics
Tom DeLay was indicted in 2005 when prosecutors alleged he accepted $190,000 in corporate donations to his Texas-based political action committee, which then funneled those funds to seven Texas House candidates in 2002 through a money swap coordinated with an arm of the Washington-based Republican National Committee. Under state law, corporate money cannot be given directly to political campaigns.
The lower appeals court, however, ruled there was insufficient evidence for a jury to have found DeLay guilty of illegally funneling money to GOP candidates. DeLay had been sentenced to three years in prison, but that was put on hold while his case was appealed.
In 1993, then Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was indicted for misconduct and records tampering on charges alleging she misused state property and workers during her election campaign. A jury quickly acquitted her of the charges.