Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted Friday on two felony counts for vetoing an appropriation bill for the office of a district attorney he wanted to resign following an arrest for drunk driving.
A federal grand jury in Travis County issued the indictment for one count of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The former count is a first-degree felony; the latter is a third-degree felony.
Perry hoped to force Travis County district attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign following her 2013 arrest for a DUI. Her blood-alcohol was reported to be .239, three times the legal limit.
Video of Lehmberg being processed into jail was released showing her rambling and acting belligerently with deputies. She spent several weeks in jail.
After the arrest, Perry openly announced a plan to veto $7.5 million in funding for a public integrity unit operated out of Lehmberg’s office if she did not quit. Perry justified the use of the veto saying that he could not support “continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”
When Lehmberg refused to leave office after her conviction, Perry vetoed the bill.
A left-leaning group, Texans for Public Justice, filed an ethics complaint against Perry, sparking a special prosecutors’ investigation. The first-degree felony charge carries a sentence of between five and 99 years. The third-degree charge carries a sentence of between two and 10 years in prison.
But the long-serving governor and likely 2016 presidential hopeful has maintained that the veto was perfectly within his gubernatorial rights under the Texas constitution.
“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” said Mary Anne Wiley, Perry’s general counsel, in a statement. “We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”
Even Think Progress, a website operated by the liberal Center for American Progress, and no friend to conservative politicians, felt that Perry had a right as governor to issue vetoes like the one he used to shut down Lehmberg’s program.
“The Texas Constitution gives the governor discretion to decide when to sign and when to veto a bill, as well as discretion to veto individual line-items in an appropriation bill,” wrote Think Progress’ Ian Millhiser.