Texas Gov. Rick Perry indicted for coercion for veto threat

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Rick Perry - updated 8/19/2014
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry indicted for coercion for veto threat

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was booked Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, on two felony counts for allegedly carrying out political threats.

(Image courtesy: Travis County Sheriff's Office)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, center, arrives at the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Perry has been booked on two felony counts of abuse of power for carrying out a threat to veto funding to state public corruption prosecutors. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, center, is booked at the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Perry has been booked on two felony counts of abuse of power for carrying out a threat to veto funding to state public corruption prosecutors. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks to the media and supporters after he was booked at the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Perry was indicted last week on charges of coercion and official oppression for publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the state public integrity unit run. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, left, leaves the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center after he was booked, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Perry was indicted last week on charges of coercion and official oppression for publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the state public integrity unit run. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks to the media and supporters after he was booked at the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Perry was indicted last week on charges of coercion and official oppression for publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the state public integrity unit run. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks to the media and supporters after he was booked at the Blackwell Thurman Criminal Justice Center, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Austin, Texas. Perry was indicted last week on charges of coercion and official oppression for publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the state public integrity unit run. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Gov. Rick Perry makes a statement in Austin, Texas on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 concerning the indictment on charges of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity. Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
Gov. Rick Perry makes a statement in Austin, Texas on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 concerning the indictment on charges of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity. Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
Gov. Rick Perry makes a statement in Austin, Texas on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 concerning the indictment on charges of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity. Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry casts his vote in the Cast you Kernel competition at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs through Aug. 17th. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry walks on the main concourse before speaking at the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs through Aug. 17th. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry walks on the main concourse before speaking at the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs through Aug. 17th. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs through Aug. 17th. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs through Aug. 17th. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Governor Rick Perry pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State Gathering, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry gives a thumbs-up to supporters before speaking at the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs through Aug. 17th. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Gov. Rick Perry makes a statement in Austin, Texas on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 concerning the indictment on charges of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity. Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas)
Texas Governor Rick Perry waits to greet US President Barack Obama in Dallas, Texas, on July 9, 2014 as he arrives for a meeting with local elected officials and faith leaders to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation at the Southwest border. Obama requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress to help cope with a surge of unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 31: Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the final day of the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 31, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Some of the biggest names in the Republican Party made appearances at the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference, which hosts 1,500 delegates from across the country through May 31. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - MAY 31: Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks during the final day of the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 31, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Some of the biggest names in the Republican Party made appearances at the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference, which hosts 1,500 delegates from across the country through May 31. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Texas Governor Rick Perry waits to greet US President Barack Obama in Dallas, Texas, on July 9, 2014 as he arrives for a meeting with local elected officials and faith leaders to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation at the Southwest border. Obama requested $3.7 billion in emergency funding from Congress to help cope with a surge of unaccompanied child immigrants from Central America. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
This Aug. 8, 2014, photo shows Governor Rick Perry as he speaks at the 2014 Red State Gathering, in Fort Worth, Texas. The Associated Press has tracked the movements and machinations of more than a dozen prospective presidential candidates including Perry. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to reporters following a fund-raising breakfast for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Thursday, May 29, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Rick Perry arrives at the Champions of Jewish Values International Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on Sunday, May 18, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
Gov. Rick Perry gives a speech during the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday, June, 5, 2014. In his address, the longest-serving governor in the state's history focused more on the future and national issues than his political legacy at home. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
FILE - In this April 23, 2014 file photo Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks in New York after trying to convince companies to move their operations to Texas. If Perry opts to make a second presidential run, his business-friendly policies in Texas will be his main selling points. But back home, members of his own party seem poised to dismantle key parts of his legacy. Among the targets: the special state funds Perry used to attract top employers to Texas. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to the media after meeting with business owners Wednesday, April 23, 2014, at a barbecue restaurant in New York. Perry, a Republican, made the trip to try to convince companies to move their operations to Texas, where he says the business climate is friendlier. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Gov. Rick Perry gives a speech during the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday, June, 5, 2014. In his address, the longest-serving governor in the state's history focused more on the future and national issues than his political legacy at home. (AP Photo/Rex C. Curry)
File - In this May 28, 2013, file photo Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks in Austin, Texas. Perry waded into Missouri's political battle over taxes Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, endorsing an uphill effort by Republican legislators to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of an income tax cut. Perry plans to make a personal appearance next week in Missouri to tout Texas' business-friendly environment. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Gov. Rick Perry speaks during a ceremonial signing of a water fund bill, Tuesday, May 28, 2013, in Austin, Texas. The legislative session ended Monday, but Perry immediately called lawmakers back for a special session. They have 30 days to approve new voting maps, though the governor will likely add more items to the agenda. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
President Barack Obama, right, talks with Texas Gov. Rick Perry as they walk on the tarmac during his arrival on Air Force One at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Thursday, May 9, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Jack Plunkett)
FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2013 file photo, Texas Gov. Rick Perry addresses the opening session of the 83rd Texas Legislature in Austin, Texas. Perry announced Wednesday, April 17, 2013, that he is heading to Illinois to recruit businesses to relocate to Texas. He will spend one night in Chicago from April 23-24 meeting with business leaders in the biotechnology and financial industries. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Texas Gov, Rick Perry, speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to reporters after a speech Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in Dallas. In his speech to business leaders, Gov. Perry outlined how he would continue pressing for spending some of the state's reserves on water and transportation projects. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry looks over papers as he arrives at the Texas Capitol to deliver the state of the state address, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2013 file photo, Gov. Rick Perry delivers the state of the state address in the house chambers at the state capitol, in Austin, Texas. With nearly two million illegal immigrants and a 1,200-mile border with Mexico, Texas has more at stake than most states in the renewed push to overhaul the nation's immigration system. Yet so far, Perry and Republicans who control the Legislature have been conspicuously sitting this debate out. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, shakes hands after addressing the opening session of the 83rd Texas Legislature, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry casts his vote in the Cast you Kernel competition at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs through Aug. 17th. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry walks on the main concourse before speaking at the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. The fair runs through Aug. 17th. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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By WILL WEISSERT

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A grand jury has indicted Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts of abuse of power for making good on a veto threat - a case the possible 2016 presidential hopeful is dismissing as nakedly political, but which his opponents say is just deserts.

The indictments for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant came late Friday, after a special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he carried out a promise to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit run by the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. The Democratic official was convicted of drunken driving, but refused Perry's repeated calls to resign.


Texas Gov. Rick Perry Indicted On Two Felony Charges


The case means the longest-serving governor in state history also became the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. Abuse of official capacity is a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison. Coercion of a public servant is a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.

Though the charges are serious, politics are sure to dominate the case. Lehmberg is based in Austin, which is where the grand jury was seated and is heavily Democratic. That's in stark contrast to much of the rest of Texas, which is fiercely conservative - so much so that a Democrat hasn't captured statewide office in 20 years.

Still, while Perry says he did nothing wrong in issuing the veto, simply having the word "indictment" associated with him could tarnish his image and complicate his prospects with 2016 GOP primary voters - should he try again for the White House.

When he ran for president in 2012, Perry plummeted from brief front-runner to national punchline, his once promising campaign doomed by a series of embarrassing gaffes, including his infamous "Oops" moment during a debate. This time, he's re-made his cowboy image, donning stylish glasses, studying up on foreign and domestic affairs and promising that he'll be far more humble in the national spotlight.

The unit Lehmberg oversees investigates statewide allegations of corruption and political wrongdoing. It led the investigation against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican who in 2010 was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for taking part in a scheme to influence elections in his home state - convictions later vacated by an appeals court.

Perry himself was never called to testify in this case,- but many of his top aides were. David L. Botsford, Perry's defense attorney, whose $450-per hour fees are being paid for by state funds, said he was "outraged and appalled" by the grand jury's decision.

"This clearly represents political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision," Botsford said in a statement. "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."

Democrats, for their part, didn't miss a change to gloat.

"Texans deserve real leadership and this is unbecoming of our governor," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. He demanded that Perry immediately resign.

No one disputes that Perry is allowed to veto measures approved by the Legislature, including parts of the state budget. But the left-leaning, Austin-based Texans for Public Justice government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint accusing the governor of coercion because he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so in an attempt to pressure Lehmberg to quit.

"We're pleased that the grand jury determined that the governor's bullying crossed the line into illegal behavior," said Craig McDonald, Texans for Public Justice's executive director.

Michael McCrum, the San Antonio-based special prosecutor overseeing the case, said he "took into account the fact that we're talking about a governor of a state - and a governor of the state of Texas, which we all love."

"But when it gets down to it, the law is the law," McCrum said.

Perry and other high-profile Republicans said Lehmberg should resign after she was arrested and pleaded 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. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit for driving.

The indictment of Perry is the first of its kind since 1917, when James "Pa" Ferguson was indicted on charges stemming from his veto of state funding to the University of Texas in an effort to unseat faculty and staff members he objected to. Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted.


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Associated Press writer Jim Vertuno contributed to this report.

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