A defiant Rick Perry went on the offensive Saturday, a day after being indicted on accusations of abusing his power with a controversial veto, denouncing the charges as “outrageous” political theatrics and predicting he will prevail over “those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes.”
“I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto and will continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor,” Perry told reporters at a packed six-minute news conferencenear his office on the second floor of the Capitol.
“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country.”
The indictment, returned Friday by a Travis County grand jury, made Perry the first sitting Texas governor in nearly a century to be indicted, abruptly threw uncertainty over his potential presidential candidacy in 2016 and triggered state and national repercussions that Democrats hope will spill into this year’s gubernatorial race to choose his successor.
Democrats at the state and national levels escalated their demands for Perry to resign, but the state’s longest-tenured governor served notice that he plans to stay in office till the end of his term and vowed that he will ultimately beat the legal charges.
Perry, who chose against running for an unprecedented fourth four-year term, will leave office in January and has been preparing for a possible second run for the presidency in 2016.
Reading from a statement and responding to three questions from reporters who filled the Governor’s Press Room, Perry repeatedly defended his threats to veto appropriations for the Travis County district attorney’s office in an attempt to force the resignation of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg after she was arrested for drunken driving. Perry ultimately vetoed a $7.5 million appropriation to a division of the office that is responsible for fighting official corruption.
The indictment stemmed from a complaint by Texans for Public Justice, a liberal-leaning public watchdog group, which alleged that Perry’s veto threat to force the resignation of a public official constituted an abuse of power. The grand jury indicted Perry on felony counts of abuse of official capacity, which carries five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, punishable by two to 10 years.
Perry stood firmly behind his actions, saying Lehmberg, who remains in office, behaved in “an incredibly inappropriate way” after her arrest, was “abusive to law enforcement” and had to be restrained. Lehmburg, who was shown in a video kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out, had a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit, Perry said.
“Americans and Texans who have seen this agree with me that that is not an individual who is heading up an office that we can afford to fund,” Perry said. “Given that information, and given that choice again, that is exactly what I would do.”
Perry also asserted that he will “explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter and bring it to a swift conclusion.”