Grand jurors charged Perry, 64, with abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony. The first charge carries a punishment of 5-99 years and a fine of up to $10,000. The second charge is punishable by 2-10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
The indictment stems from Perry’s threat last summer to withhold $7.5 million in state money from Lehmberg’s office unless she step down – a threat he later carried out by vetoing an appropriation in the state budget.
Mary Anne Wiley, General Counsel for Perry, said in a statement following the indictment: “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.”
Immediately, after the indictment was announced, Perry, who is poised to make a second run for president, tweeted: “Help RickPAC elect candidates who support a strong border, new jobs, smaller gov’t, and fiscal responsibility.”
The special prosecutor in the case, San Antonio attorney Michael McCrum, said he was confident with the strength of the charges filed against Perry.
“There has been an immense amount of work that has gone into my investigation up until this point,” he told reporters after announcing the indictment. “I have interviewed over 40 people who were related in some way to the events that happened.”
He later added: “I looked at the law. I looked at the facts. and I presented everything possible to the grand jury.”
Asked about his thoughts of Perry’s ability to do his job as governor, McCrum said: “I took into account the fact that we’re talking about the governor of a state and a governor of the state of Texas, which we all love. Obviously that carries a level of importance, but when it gets down to it, the law is the law, and the elements are the elements.”
McCrum said he will speak with Perry’s lawyers Monday to arrange for the governor to be booked and formally notified in court of the charges against him.
Ray Sullivan, a former chief of staff to the governor who served as his spokesman when he ran for the 2012 presidential nomination, said of the indictment, “I think it certainly will be a big deal with the liberal media – Slate, Salon – and therefore for the national media. It is beyond ridiculous that Travis County is pursuing the governor, after letting the seriously drunk, police-disrespecting DA stay in office.”
Some Democrats were calling for Perry to step down.
“For the sake of Texas, Governor Perry should resign following his indictment on two criminal felony counts involving abuse of office,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.
Soon after Perry threatened to withhold the state money from Lehmberg’s office, Craig McDonald, head of the watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, filed the original complaint against Perry. McDonald told local prosecutors that he had “good reason to believe” that Perry committed “one or more offenses … against the peace and dignity of the state.”
McDonald said Friday he was pleased that the grand jury felt the governor’s behavior was not “just bullying” but rather, “it was criminal.”
“The legal process is working just as it should,” he said. “We thought our complaint had merit from the beginning.”
The money that Perry withheld from Lehmberg’s office was earmarked for the state’s Public Integrity Unit, which is housed in Lehmberg’s office. Perry’s veto forced Travis County taxpayers to partially fund the office, but several prosecutors and staff lost their jobs or had to be reassigned.
Lehmberg supporters said Perry’s actions constituted political retribution; Many Republicans have said the Public Integrity Unit has unfairly targeted their party for prosecutions. The Travis County District Attorney’s office has for decades been led by Democrats, including Lehmberg.
Had Lehmberg resigned, Perry would have named her replacement.
Travis County deputies arrested and charged Lehmberg with DWI in April 2013. She later pled guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail – an usually harsh sentence for a first-time drunken driving charge. She later prevailed in a civil lawsuit to remove her from office.
After his veto, Perry said, “Despite the otherwise good work (of) the Public Integrity Unit’s employees, I cannot in good conscience support continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”