AUSTIN, Texas – Gov. Rick Perry was defiant Wednesday as he was booked on abuse of power charges, telling dozens of cheering supporters outside a Texas courthouse that he would “fight this injustice with every fiber of my being.”
Showing no hint of worry on his face, Perry flashed a thin, confident grin beneath perfect hair in his mug shot – then headed to a nearby Austin eatery for ice cream, even gleefully documenting his excursion via Twitter.
The Republican, who is mulling a second presidential run in 2016, was indicted after carrying out a threat to veto funding for state public corruption prosecutors. He has dismissed the case a political ploy, and supporters chanting his last name and holding signs – some declaring “Stop Democrat Games” and “Rick is Right” – greeted him upon arriving at a Travis County Courthouse in Austin.
“I’m going to fight this injustice with every fiber of my being. And we will prevail,” Perry said before walking inside the building, where he set off a metal detector but didn’t break stride, heading straight to a first-floor office to have his fingerprints taken and stand for the mug shot. In it he’s wearing a blue tie but shed the glasses that have become something of his trademark in recent months.
The longest-serving governor in Texas history was indicted last week for coercion and official oppression for publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the state public integrity unit, which investigates wrongdoing by elected officials and is run by the Travis County district attorney’s office. Perry threatened the veto if the county’s Democratic district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, stayed in office after a drunken driving conviction.
Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry carried out the veto, drawing an ethics complaint from a left-leaning government watchdog group.
Perry was indicted by a grand jury in Austin, a liberal bastion in otherwise mostly fiercely conservative Texas.
“I’m going to enter this courthouse with my head held high knowing the actions I took were not only lawful and legal, but right,” Perry told supporters before heading inside the building located just steps from the governor’s mansion.
In less than 10 minutes, the governor was outside again, telling those assembled that he was confident in the rule of law.
“We don’t resolve political disputes or policy differences by indictments,” he said. “We don’t criminalize policy disagreements. We will prevail. We will prevail.”
The atmosphere all around him felt less like an undignified perp walk and more like a full-throated campaign rally. Retired Coast Guard officer Dave Jimenez, 70, said he was standing with Perry despite being critical of his efforts to secure the Texas-Mexico border
“He let me down back then,” Jimenez said. “But this is an attack on the political system. I’m just soured by it.”
Perry’s detractors also waited to relish a glimpse of him walking into court to face processing. Among them was an attorney who is defending more than a dozen Texas abortion clinics set to close this month under a tough anti-abortion bill signed by Perry last year.
“It’s not about politics. It’s about the governor’s abuse of power,” said attorney Jan Soifer, who’s also a Democratic Party leader in Austin.
The governor, meanwhile, isn’t letting the case keep him from a packed travel schedule that will take him to the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina over the next two weeks. After his 2012 presidential campaign flamed out, the Republican opted not to seek re-election as governor in November – leaving him more time to focus on rehabilitating his image nationally.
If convicted on both counts, Perry could face a maximum 109 years in prison – though legal experts across the political spectrum have said the case against him may be a tough sell to a jury. No one disputes that Perry has the right to veto any measures passed by the state Legislature, including any parts of the state budget.
But the complaint against Perry alleges that by publicly threatening a veto and trying to force Lehmberg to resign, he coerced her. The Republican judge assigned to the case has assigned a San Antonio-based special prosecutor who insists the case is stronger than it may outwardly appear.
The governor has hired a team of high-powered attorneys, who are being paid with state funds to defend him.
Perry is the first Texas governor to be indicted since 1917. Top Republicans have been especially quick to defend him, though, since a jail video following Lehmberg’s April 2013 arrest showed the district attorney badly slurring her words, shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell, and sticking her tongue out. Her blood alcohol level was also three times the legal limit for driving.