AUSTIN, Texas — A judge has decided not to issue an arrest warrant for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a court official said Monday, meaning the Republican can continue traveling the country and gearing up for a possible 2016 presidential run despite being indicted on two felony counts of abuse of power.
Perry on Friday became the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted, and he’s facing charges that carry a maximum sentence of 109 years in prison for carrying out a threat to veto funding for the state’s public integrity unit. But Linda Estrada, a Travis County grand jury clerk, said that the judge overseeing the case, Bert Richardson, decided against issuing an arrest warrant.
Perry will receive a summons which has not been issued yet and won’t be until his defense attorney and the state set a date for him to appear in court. Estrada said the governor will eventually have to be booked and fingerprinted. She wasn’t sure about a mug shot, though cases similar to Perry’s have warranted them in the past.
Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor leading the case against Perry, did not respond to repeated messages for comment. But he told The Houston Chronicle that a summons rather than an arrest warrant wasn’t unusual since the governor poses no flight risk – and that it did not constitute special treatment.
Perry is going forward with plans to visit three early presidential battleground states in the next two weeks, while attempting to rally conservatives to his cause, saying the indictment is symbolic of government overreach.
“This is not the way that we settle differences, political differences in this country,” Perry said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday.”
Perry’s office didn’t immediately respond Monday to messages seeking comment on the summons.
Still, for Perry, who stumbled in his 2012 presidential campaign, the allegations could pose a distraction and complicate his attempts to gain a second look from Republicans in early voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The details of the prosecution and timing of any trial remain unknown, and it is unclear how Republican activists will respond to a presidential candidate who has been indicted.
Aides said Perry planned to maintain his public schedule, including a Thursday speech on immigration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, and then a visit to New Hampshire next weekend. The governor is scheduled to appear at a slate of activities there: events in Portsmouth, Manchester and Nashua on Friday, followed by a rally Saturday in Stratham and Republican gatherings in Rochester and Chichester.
Later this month, Perry is expected at a larger Americans for Prosperity gathering in Dallas, which will also feature Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Then he plans to be in South Carolina on Aug. 27-28 for appearances that include a college football game at the University of South Carolina against Texas A&M, Perry’s alma mater.
Perry is scheduled to return to Iowa, home of the nation’s leadoff presidential caucuses, on Sept. 1-2, and then departs on a weeklong Texas trade mission to Japan and China, which will include stops in Beijing and the World Economic Forum in Tianjin.
Potential 2016 presidential rivals such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Cruz have denounced the indictment and Republicans have said the facts of the case could prompt conservatives to rally behind Perry.
“Nobody wants to get indicted but the basis of the indictment is so preposterous that ultimately it could be a political benefit,” said Phil Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto $7.5 million in funding to the state’s public integrity unit, which investigates official wrongdoing and is led by a local district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, an elected Democrat, unless she resigned following her arrest and conviction for drunken driving.
McCrum was assigned to investigate the veto following a complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group.
Conservatives note that a video recording made at the jail showed Lehmberg shouting at staffers, kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out at deputies.
“A public official getting drunk and arrested is something we have experienced in South Carolina and the base voters will award Perry for standing firm,” said Katon Dawson, a Perry ally and former South Carolina GOP chairman. “Plus, Rick has friends in South Carolina who are with him and that matters.”