Rick Perry came out swinging Saturday against an indictment charging the Texas governor with abuse of office and coercion over his decision to veto funding for a state anti-corruption watchdog office.
"I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto and will continue to defend this lawful activity as governor," Perry said in a brief press conference in Austin, adding that the indictment was a "farce" and "nothing more than abuse of power."
A grand jury indicted the Republican governor Friday on one count of abuse of office and one count of coercion of a public official. The charges claim Perry withheld money from the Public Integrity Office, the state anti-corruption division run out of the Travis County District Attorney's Office. Perry publicly threatened to veto the funds unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat who had been arrested for drunken driving in April 2013, resigned.
The anti-corruption office was a politically sensitive target, having investigated several high-profile Republicans, including then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who was indicted by the office on fundraising-related charges.
Perry rejected the idea that his veto was politically motivated, instead accusing the grand jury that indicted him of its own abuse of power. "We don't settle political differences with indictments in this country," he said. "It's outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state constitution."
The governor said he would explore every legal avenue to bring the indictment to a swift conclusion, promising that "those responsible [for the charges] will be held accountable."
The charges against Perry had been brewing since last summer, when Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint arguing Perry's veto threat was an act of political retribution and unlawful. A special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, was assigned to the case to investigate the allegations.
McCrum defended the charges against Perry on Friday, telling NBC affiliate KXAN that "an immense amount of work" had gone into the probe, including interviews with more than 40 people involved in the case.
Whether or not the indictment results in conviction, the charges could create a headache for the governor, who is openly exploring a second presidential run in 2016.
Benjy Sarlin contributed reporting to this story.