Rick Perry Defends Himself Against Two Felony Charges

Rick Perry prayer hands
Texas Governor Rick Perry gestures as he speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa August 9, 2014. Brian Frank/Reuters

On Friday, Rick Perry was indicted by a grand jury on two felony charges for abuse of power. Speaking in Austin on Saturday, his first public statement since the indictment, Perry called the allegations "outrageous" and a "farce of democracy." Perry is the first Texas governor to be indicted since 1917.

The Texas governor was indicted under unusual circumstances. A grand jury in Travis County indicted Perry after he abused his power to intimidate Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat district attorney, into resigning after she plead guilty to a drunk driving charge and served 45 days in jail. The nucleus of the indictment claims that Perry threatened to veto $7.5 million in state funds to Lehmberg's Public Integrity Unit -- a hard-hitting public corruption initiative investigating federal, state and local officials -- unless she stepped down. Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning political watchdog organization, filed an ethics complaint against Perry last summer following his veto threat against Lehmberg.

"I intend to fight against those who would erode our state's constitution and laws purely for political purposes, and I intend to win," Perry said about the charges.

Perry turned his indictment back on the Texas Democrats who accused him, calling the charges an abuse of power and an act of political hardball. On Sunday he claimed that the charge was indicative of a deeper problem, with government agencies straying from the rule of law, and name-checked recent NSA and Internal Revenue Service scandals as examples. Perry told reporters that he does not regret the veto and that he stands by his decision.

"I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto, and will continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor. We don't settle political differences with indictments in this country. It is outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state's constitution," he said.

Perry is reportedly a possible candidate for the presidency in 2016. He is not seeking re-election as Texas governor and plans to wrap up his term in January. He is the longest-serving governor in Texas history, since 2000. If convicted with both felonies, Perry could face dozens of years in prison, according to KXAN.

A number of Texas Democrats have criticized Perry's aggressive stance, claiming that he is shifting the focus away from the charges against him. State Senator Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate and favorite up for Texas governor in 2016, called the charges against Perry "troubling." But unlike her Democrat counterparts, she did not call for Perry to resign immediately following his indictment.

"There will be, I'm sure, more information that comes to light. I trust that the justice system will do its job, and these indictments handed down by the grand jury demonstrate that some very seriously potential crimes have been committed," she told reporters on Saturday morning in Pflugerville, Texas.