Rick Perry defends veto, moves ahead with presidential courtship (+video)
Perry, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, could answer two felony counts of abuse of power this week and be forced to sit for a booking photo and fingerprinting in response to a political dispute that has roiled his home state.
Laura Skelding/Austin American-Statesman/AP
"I stood up for the rule of law in the state of Texas, and if I had to do it again I would make exactly the same decision," Perry, a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, said.
Undeterred by indictment, Rick Perry intends to travel to three major 2016 primary states during the next two weeks even as he faces the prospects of a highly unpresidential booking on felony charges.
Yet for Perry, who stumbled in his 2012 presidential campaign, the allegations could pose a distraction and complicate his attempts to gain a second look from Republicans in early voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The details of the prosecution and timing of any trial remain unknown, and it is unclear how Republican activists will respond to a presidential candidate who has been indicted.
The special prosecutor bringing the case against Perry, San Antonio-based Michael McCrum, said he would meet Monday with Perry'sdefense attorney, David L. Botsford, and with the judge overseeing the case, Bert Richardson, to begin discussing next steps.
It was unclear when the governor might be booked or appear at the Travis County Courthouse, which is located just steps from the governor's mansion in Austin. In the booking, he could face fingerprinting and a photograph, bringing to mind the photo of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who grinned broadly for his mug shot and pleaded innocent to campaign finance conspiracy charges. DeLay was later acquitted on appeal.
Already the longest-serving governor in state history, Perry has made it clear that he plans to complete his third and final term in January as planned. In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," the governor noted that David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, had called the indictment "sketchy" while Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz had questioned the move.
"Across the board you're seeing people weigh in and reflecting that this is way outside of the norm. This is not the way that we settle differences, political differences in this country," Perry said. "You don't do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box."
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, unless she resigned following her arrest and conviction for drunken driving. That 2013 veto prompted a criminal investigation.
Perry said he had lost confidence in the prosecutor and had been clear about his intentions to veto the funding. The governor said Sunday that the indictment reflected a larger problem of government agencies not following the rule of law, pointing to the Internal Revenue Service scandal in Washington and concerns about National Security Agency surveillance.
"This is the criminalization of just the legislative function and when you do that you weaken democracy. This is certainly a political attack, and this is very bad precedent," said Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, who appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Perry's veto cut $7.5 million in funding to the state's ethics watchdog housed in the county district attorney's office. A state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group, which 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 the mostly conservative state. Voters in the county reliably elect a Democrat to serve as district attorney.
Perry said Saturday he was confident that he would prevail and said 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 a high-profile campaign 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.
Aides said Perry planned to maintain his public schedule, including a Thursday speech on immigration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, and then a visit to New Hampshire next weekend. The governor is scheduled to appear at a slate of activities there: events in Portsmouth, Manchester and Nashua on Friday, followed by a rally Saturday in Stratham and Republican gatherings in Rochester and Chichester.
Later this month, Perry is expected at a larger Americans for Prosperity gathering in Dallas, which will also feature Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Then he plans to be in South Carolina on Aug. 27-28 for appearances that include a college football game at the University of South Carolina against Texas A&M, Perry's alma mater.
Perry is scheduled to return to Iowa, home of the nation's leadoff presidential caucuses, on Sept. 1-2, and then departs on a weeklong Texas trade mission to Japan and China, which will include stops in Beijing and the World Economic Forum in Tianjin.
Potential 2016 presidential rivals such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Cruz, a fellow Texan, have denounced the indictment and Republicans have said the facts of the case could prompt conservatives to rally behind Perry.
"Nobody wants to get indicted but the basis of the indictment is so preposterous that ultimately it could be a political benefit," said Phil Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association.