A state grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts Aug. 15. According to the New York Times, the charges are for allegedly abusing the powers of his office in the handling of local district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s intoxicated driving arrest. The second charge is for coercion of a public servant. Perry is Texas’s first indicted governor in nearly a century. The last Texas governor who faced criminal charges was James E. “Pa” Ferguson, who was indicted in 1917.
The investigation focused on the veto power Perry has as governor. According to the New York Times, critics of Perry insisted that he used his power to get elected official and Democrat Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after her arrest for driving under the influence. Lehmberg is the district attorney in Travis County and oversees the public corruption unit that investigates local, state and federal officials.
Ensuing Lehmberg’s arrest, Perry and his aids threatened to veto $7.5 million in state funding for her office’s public corruption unit unless she stepped down. Perry followed through on his threat and vetoed the money when she did not resign.
A special prosecutor on the case presented evidence that suggested Perry broke the law when he publicly promised that he would veto the money in the course of two years. Individuals who appeared before the grand jury in Austin include the legislative director, general counsel and his deputy chief of staff. Perry, however, did not testify.
According to ABC News, grand jurors indicted Perry’s abuse of a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony that has a punishment of two to 10 years in prison.
In a news conference Aug. 16 in Austin Perry said that the indictment against him was an abuse of power and that he would fight it. According to The Monitor, Perry did not apologize for the 2013 veto that lead to the criminal investigation against him.
Perry, who has been the longest-serving governor in Texas history, said that he planned to finish his term, which ends in January. He also stated that it was the investigation against him and not what he did that developed into an abuse of power.