US POLITICS

Texas Governor Rick Perry arrested for abusing his power

Texas governor issues spirited defence after he is charged over allegations he abused his power

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 9:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 9:15pm
NYT

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Texas Governor Rick Perry struck a tight smile for his mug shot and issued a spirited defence against charges of abusing his power, vowing "to fight this injustice with every fibre of my being".

The Republican governor and 2016 US presidential contender was booked on two felony counts of coercion and abuse of power. He is accused of threatening to veto US$7.5 million for a state public integrity unit run by the Travis County prosecutor's office and trying to push district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to leave office after a drink-driving conviction.

When Lehmberg refused to resign, Perry vetoed the funding for the office, which investigates state officials.

"The actions I took were lawful, they were legal and they were proper," he told supporters outside the Travis county court, where he was fingerprinted and his booking photo was taken.

A liberal group filed the ethics complaint alleging Perry abused his authority by trying to force an elected county official from office rather than let voters deal with the matter. Perry has dismissed the indictment as a political reprisal by Democrats.

A Republican state district judge appointed a special prosecutor to direct a grand jury inquiry. The special prosecutor, Mike McCrum, is a San Antonio lawyer who was a federal prosecutor in the administration of president George H.W.Bush.

"It is our system of constitutional checks and balances that is being challenged here today," Perry said outside the courthouse. "This prosecution would seek to erode the power of all Texas governors, Republicans and Democrats, to veto legislation and funding they deem proper."

The indictment is the first of a Texas governor in nearly 100 years. It also poses an obstacle for Perry, who has an extensive travel schedule ahead to presidential primary states as he considers another run for the White House.

Perry faces felony counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. He was indicted on the charges on Friday, and showed up for his booking on Tuesday.

Offering an early outline of his legal defence, Perry called the indictment "a chilling restraint on the right of free speech" and said everything he did was legal because the governor had authority to veto funding for any reason.

Outside the courthouse, state Republican Party chairman Steve Munisteri denounced the charges as partisan dirty tricks.

"The governor has the absolute right to appropriations," Munisteri said. "The only conclusion you can draw is that this was politically motivated."

Jan Soifer, chairwoman of the Travis county Democratic Party, accused Perry of committing a crime by trying to remove a public official through coercion.

"His attempts to spin this back as being either political or something about the district or something about the veto are fascinating political spin, but not an accurate view of what happened, which was that the governor abused his power," she said.