- Associated Press - Friday, August 15, 2014

(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)

c.2013 Houston Chronicle< AUSTIN - A Travis County grand jury on Friday indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts accusing him of abuse of power, threatening his presumed 2016 presidential aspirations and potentially casting a cloud over the race to choose his successor.

Perry’s lawyer said he was “outraged and appalled” at the indictment on one count each of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant in connection with the governor’s veto of funding for the public corruption division of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.

”This clearly represents political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision. 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,” said David Botsford, a defense lawyer representing Perry, Texas’ longest-serving governor.

Abuse of official capacity is a first-degree felony, carrying a possible punishment of five to 99 years in prison; coercion of a public servant is a third-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison.

”I took into account the fact that we’re talking about … the governor of the state of Texas, which we all love. Obviously, that carries a level of importance,” said the special prosecutor in the case, Michael McCrum, of San Antonio. “But when it gets down to it, the law is the law.”

McCrum said he will meet with Perry’s lawyer and the judge to set up a time for the governor to appear a court to be arraigned. No date has been set.

The grand jury probe was triggered by a complaint filed by Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics, after Perry said he would veto funding in the state budget for the Public Integrity Unit overseen by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg unless she resigned following a messy drunken-driving arrest.

Perry carried through on the veto threat when Lehmberg refused.

”The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” Mary Anne Wiley, general counsel for the governor’s office, said in a statement. “We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

Texans for Public Justice said Perry’s threat to use it to force the resignation of a locally elected official went too far.

”The grand jury decided his bullying was actually lawbreaking, just as we thought it was,” said the group’s Director Craig McDonald. “These were exactly the acts we believed were illegal, so the grand jury believed our complaint had merit. And and now the legal system can work. The governor will have to defend his actions in court.”

The indictment comes as Perry has been getting some favorable attention while he eyes a 2016 White House race in the wake of his misstep-plagued effort to win the 2012 Republican nomination.

”It’s a distraction for him at a minimum that might carry some slowdown potential, or even some damage potential,” said University of Texas at Austin political scientist Bruce Buchanan.

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