Rick Perry's Legal Team Fights Felony Charges
AUSTIN (CN) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry's legal team fought back Monday, calling the felony charges against Texas' longest-serving governor "banana republic politics," and insisting that the Republican presidential hopeful did nothing wrong.
"We don't settle political differences in the United States and in Texas through the criminal courts. We settle political differences at the ballot box. This is nothing more than banana republic politics," said Tony Buzbee, a Houston-based lawyer leading Perry's defense team.
"The charges leveled against the governor are a really nasty attack on the rule of law but also on the Constitution of the United States and the state of Texas and also the constitutional protections that we all enjoy," Buzbee said.
A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry on two felony counts Friday: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
Travis County District Attorney Mary Lehmberg - a Democrat - pleaded guilty in April 2013 to criminal charges relating to her arrest on drunken driving charges. Eight months later, she survived an attempt by Travis County Attorney David Escamilla to remove her from her job.
Perry demanded that Lehmberg resign shortly after her arrest. He issued a line-item veto of Senate Bill 1, stripping her office's Public Integrity Unit of more than $7 million that had been earmarked by state lawmakers.
Before taking media questions, the legal team played a 30-second video clip of Lehmberg on the night of her DUI arrest.
"Let's not forget what precipitated this, the genesis of the reason why we are all here," Buzbee said before playing the clip on a projector showing Lehmberg tied in a restraint chair and threatening officers with arrest.
"That individual was responsible for $7.5 million of state taxpayer monies," Buzbee said. "Governor Perry, as the governor, is responsible that those monies are spent wisely and are overseen by his office."
Buzbee said Perry had lost confidence in Lehmberg, and that "as is his right, vetoed that line item."
Buzbee said that Perry will fight the indictment and will win.
"At the end of the day he will prevail because he is on the side of the rule of law. The governor acted lawfully and properly exercised his power under the law and frankly his obligation as governor under the law to protect the public safety," Buzbee said.
"At the end of the day, Governor Perry did what was right and he did what was correct."
Perry's legal team, introduced at an Austin hotel ballroom, includes Bobby Birchfield and Dennis Ginsberg, both of whom served as general counsel to President George W. Bush, and retired Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court Thomas Phillips.
Buzbee said information relating to Perry's arraignment will be forthcoming and will be made available to the public.
Perry's arraignment, originally set for Aug. 29 in the 390th District Court, has been moved up to 9 a.m. on Aug. 22.
Under Texas law, Perry does not have to be present but may attend.