Rick Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas' history and GOP presidential hopeful for 2016, became the first governor in that state to face criminal charges in nearly 100 years Friday, when he was indicted on two felony counts charging that he abused his power in trying to pressure a local district attorney to quit her job.
According to The New York Times, Perry allegedly attempted to use his veto power as leverage to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after she was arrested for drunk-driving last year.
Lehmberg, a Democrat who was elected to the post, oversees a powerful public corruption unit that investigate government officials. The unit's work resulted in the indictment of former Republican congressman Tom Delay on campaign finance laws violations in 2005 according to the Times.
Perry and his aides threatened to block $7.5 million in state funding the unit if Lehmberg didn't resign after she was arrested. He then made good on the threat stating that he could no longer 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."
David L. Botsford, Perry's lawyer told the Times on Friday that his client's actions were lawful and allowing a grand jury to punish him for using his constitutional authority sets a "dangerous precedent."
"This clearly represents political abuse of the court system, and there is no legal basis in this decision," Mr. Botsford said. "The facts of this case conclude that the governor's veto was lawful, appropriate and well within the authority of the office of the governor."
The charge of abuse of official capacity comes with a prison sentence of five to 99 years, and the charge of coercion of a public servant could result in a two- to 10-year prison term, notes the Times.
Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, told the Times that he expects Perry to get a mug shot and fingerprinted as part of standard procedure at his arraignment at a later date.
"I imagine that's included in that," said McCrum.
When asked if the case against Perry was a partisan witch hunt which many of Perry's supporters argue it is, McCrum said: "I'm not going to get into that. That didn't go into my consideration whatsoever."
Lehmberg was found by sheriff's deputies with an open bottle of vodka in the front passenger seat of her car in a church parking lot in Austin one Saturday night in April 2013 according to the Times. She was arrested and charged with drunk-driving and later pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to 45-days in jail.