Rick Perry was indicted today despite claiming innocence in charges that he abused his power by threatening to veto funding if his demands were not met. A Texas Grand Jury ruled against him today. Perry said he’d cut funding to the state’s Public Integrity Unit if District Attorney Rosemary Lehberg, who had been recently convicted on drunk driving charges, didn’t resign. When she refused, he followed through on the promise.
WITN reports that Texas Governor Rick Perry is the first governor in Texas to be indicted in nearly a century. The last was in 1917, when the then-governor James Ferguson similarly threatened a veto of funds, in that case to University of Texas in an attempt to remove faculty members he wanted out.
Rosemary Lehberg was charged with drunk driving in the Spring of 2013, and handed a 45-day sentence for the crime. She served only about half that time. The Statesman reported at the time that Lehberg was expected to complete her term, which ends in December of 2016, then retire.
Lehberg made a public apology after her release, asking the community to forgive her.
In response to her arrest, Governor Rick Perry called for her resignation. When Lehberg refused, Perry announced that he would veto $7.5 million in funding for the Public Integrity Unit if Lehberg did not resign.
Governor Perry then followed through on the threat, prompting an ethics complaint.
The San Jose Mercury News reports that after months of calling witnesses, a special prosecutor for the state satisfactorily proved to a Grand Jury that Governor Perry broke the law when he made, and followed through on, the threat.
The charges on which Perry was indicted were abuse of official capacity, and coercion of a public servant. Abuse of official capacity carries a punishment of five to 99 years, and coercion of a public servant can net two to ten years in prison.
If Perry actually receives prison time, it may interfere with some of his future plans: though he has confirmed that he does not intend to run for re-election as Texas Governor, he has made much of a possible presidential run in 2016.
Though the governor and his aides maintain that he broke no laws, as vetoing funding is a right and power bestowed upon him in his office as governor, using threats of defunding as a means to coerce other government officials is most certainly not within his legal powers, and it is on the power of those charges that Rick Perry was indicted.
[Photo: Ed Schipul]