A grand jury today indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry for allegedly abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption, The Associated Press reports.
A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit, which is run by Travis County Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's office — the same office that indicted U.S. Rep. Tom Delay as part of a finance probe.
Perry said he wouldn't allow Texas to fund the unit unless Lehmberg resigned after she was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunken driving in April 2013. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit for driving.
Other high-profile Republicans besides Perry called on Lehmberg to give up her post.
Several top aides to the Republican governor appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. Perry, a 2016 presidential hopeful, did not testify. The criminal investigation could damage his political prospects. His 2012 presidential bid crashed a series of embarrassing gaffes and a debate performance in which he appeared to be stoned.
Grand jurors indicted Perry on abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.
The second longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry isn't seeking re-election in November. He has not yet been arraigned on the charges.
Perry’s indictment is the first of its kind in Texas since 1917, when James "Pa" Ferguson was indicted for vetoing state funding to the University of Texas in an effort to unseat faculty and staff members he objected to. Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted, allowing his wife, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, to take over the governorship.