AUSTIN (CN) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted on two felony counts regarding his defunding of the Travis County District Attorney's ethics investigations unit due to her drunk driving arrest.
A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry - a Republican - on one count of abuse of official capacity and one count of coercion of a public servant on Friday.
Travis County District Attorney Mary Lehmberg - a Democrat - pleaded guilty
in April 2013 to criminal charges relating to the arrest. Eight months later, she survived an attempt by Travis County Attorney David Escamilla to remove her from her job.
Perry demanded Lehmberg resign shortly after her arrest. He issued a line-item veto of Senate Bill 1, stripping her office's Public Integrity Unit of over $7 million that was earmarked by state lawmakers.
"Despite the otherwise good work 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," Perry said at the time.
"This unit is in no other way held accountable to state taxpayers, except through the state budgetary process. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation." The PIU investigates possible ethics violations by elected officials in the state.
The indictment alleged Perry "intentionally or knowingly" misused government property.
"By means of coercion, to-wit threatening to veto legislation that had been approved and authorized by the Legislature of the State of Texas to provide funding for the continued operation of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District's Attorney's Office unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemay Lehmberg resigned," the indictment stated.
Mary Anne Wiley, Perry's general counsel, defended the line item veto as part of his job.
"The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution," she said immediately after the indictment. "We will continue to aggressively defend the governor's lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail."
Lehmberg has publicly apologized several times for her arrest.
"I think I have said over and over again that is was inexcusable and I have tried to do everything I can to fix it," she said in December 2013. "I want to thank everyone who has supported me in my attempt to regain the confidence of this community."
The Texas Democratic Party quickly denounced Perry as bringing "dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas."
Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa demanded Perry step down immediately.
"Texans deserve to have leaders that stand up for what is right and work to help families across Texas," Hinojosa said Friday evening.
In Perry's defense, his attorney, David Botsford with Botsford Roark in Austin, said he is "outraged and appalled" by the indictment.
"This clearly represented political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision," he said Friday night. "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 of the Texas governor."
But Democrat Hinojosa also invoked the law, saying Republican officeholders in Texas have a pattern of breaking it.
"The indictment today shows a failure of Governor Perry to follow the law," said Hinojosa. "This is systematic of a broader problem: [Texas Attorney General candidate] Ken Paxton is facing a possible indictment and Attorney General [Greg] Abbott has refused to rule on whether Governor Perry can use taxpayer dollars to cover his legal expenses."