Rick Perry’s legal team has a message for the jury that indicted the Texas governor on Friday for alleged abuse of power: Bring it.
“Gov. Perry will fight this indictment 100%, and, at the end of the day, he will prevail because he is on the side of the rule of law,” said Tony Buzbee, one of five lawyers who will represent Perry. Buzbee made the remarks at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
The indictments stem from an investigation into Perry’s effort to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after she was arrested on drunk driving charges in April 2013. Perry had threatened to withhold $7.2 million in funding from Lehmberg’s office unless she called it quits. Perry had argued that he no longer had confidence in the prosecutor.
Lehmberg – a Democrat — served a jail sentence but refused to resign. Consequently, Perry did as he promised and vetoed the appropriation in the state budget. That veto triggered a criminal investigation. The two felony counts, issued Friday, include abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public official.
Perry has brushed off the charges — which face a maximum of 109 years behind bars — calling them a “farce of a prosecution” and “partisan political theatrics.” He has insisted his actions were legal and that, given the chance, he would repeat the veto.
The governor's lawyers on Monday argued that the indictment has no merit and that it's an assault on the rule of law because Perry has the right to veto such legislation. They also played a police video of Lehmberg acting belligerently to police officers in Austin after her car was stopped for driving erratically. Buzbee said after Perry saw the video following Lehmberg’s arrest, he quickly lost confidence in her ability to hold her job with the state. The lawyer claimed that anyone who saw the video would have lost faith in Lehmberg's ability to lead too.
Bobby Birchifeld, another lawyer who will be representing Perry, said the indictments are an “attempt to criminalize politics pure and simple.”
Court officials said on Monday that Perry will not be issued a warrant for his arrest, although he will be issued a summons to appear in court. Buzbee said Perry would appear in court when he receives that summons but an official date has not yet been set.
Several of Perry’s potential 2016 opponents have come to the governor’s defense, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Even some Democrats have questioned the case, including former adviser to President Obama David Axelrod.
“Unless he demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy,” Axelrod tweeted.
Despite the indictments, Perry is forging ahead in courting potential national voters, should he officially decide to make another bid for the Oval Office in 2016. He is sticking to his planned schedule, which includes a visit to the early voting state of New Hampshire next weekend and stops to the political heavyweights states of South Carolina and Iowa during the next few weeks.