A grand jury has indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, saying he abused his power by trying to pressure a district attorney to resign.
The two felony counts against Perry, a Republican, stem from his threat to veto funding for a statewide public integrity unit run by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg unless she stepped down, the special prosecutor in the case, Michael McCrum, said.
Perry attorney David L. Botsford called the indictment a "political abuse of the court system." He said the action "violated the separation of powers" and "sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a grand jury to punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor."
CNN affiliate KVUE reported that Perry will have to report to the Travis County Jail in the capital of Austin to be booked, fingerprinted and have his photo made for a mugshot.
Perry can continue to serve as governor while under indictment, KVUE reported. His attorneys could seek to have the charges thrown out, a motion that would delay the case, at the very least.
The grand jury in Travis County indicted the governor on charges of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity.
The charges have serious political implications, both in Texas and beyond. Perry is entering his final few months in office after a historic 14-year run in Austin.
The Republican running to replace Perry is state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who will have to answer questions about the legal drama. Abbott is facing off against Democratic star Wendy Davis, whose campaign is already making hay of Friday's news.
Perry's presidential prospects could be damaged. It's an open secret he's laying groundwork for a second presidential campaign after his disastrous 2012 effort.
The governor has positioned himself as an early conservative alternative to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another GOP presidential contender.
Perry is scheduled to visit the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina in the coming weeks to meet with Republican activists and legislators.
According to McCrum, the indictment alleges that the circumstances around Perry's veto threat amounted to a misuse of state money earmarked by the Legislature to fund the public integrity unit in Travis County run by Lehmberg.
The second charge alleges that he improperly used the veto threat to get her to resign following her arrest on a drunk driving charge. She stayed in office.
"I'm ready to go forward (in) my task as district attorney. In this case, the grand jury has spoken and I'm going forward to carry out the duties that have been bestowed upon me," McCrum said.
"I feel confident about the charges that have been filed," he added.
Mary Anne Wiley, general counsel for Perry's office, said the "veto in question was made in accordance" with the authority "afforded to every governor" under the state's constitution.
"We will continue to aggressively defend the governor's lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail," Wiley said in a statement.
Political opponents of Perry, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, urged him to resign.
"Governor Rick Perry has brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas," the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement. "We call on Governor Perry to immediately step down from office. Texans deserve real leadership and this is unbecoming of our governor."
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