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WASHINGTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry is lashing out at the “outrageous” criminal charges filed against him and defending the veto that led a grand jury to indict him on two felony counts of abuse of power.
Perry, a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, appeared defiant Saturday when he met with reporters outside his Capitol office in Austin, Texas.
Already the longest-serving governor in state history — in office since December 2000 — he made it clear that he plans to complete his final term in January as planned.
“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry said. “It is outrageous that someone would use political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution.”
A Travis County grand jury on Friday indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto state funds to the local district attorney, an elected Democrat who refused to resign following a drunken-driving arrest. That 2013 veto prompted a criminal investigation.
“The details of my decision-making were very clear. I said early on that I was going to clearly veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I had lost confidence in,” Perry said. “And I had lost confidence.”
Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. The charges came as he has sought to reintroduce himself to Republican leaders and rank-and-file party members eager to win back the White House. Several stumbles during his presidential bid in 2012 led to his early departure from the race.
Perry’s veto cut $7.5 million in funding to the state’s ethics watchdog housed in the county district attorney’s office. A state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group, which accused Perry of trying to leverage his power to force the resignation of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
That unit of public corruption investigators is based in Austin, a liberal haven in the mostly conservative state and a city that reliably elects Democrats to serve as district attorney.
Perry said he was confident that he would prevail and said those responsible for this “farce of a prosecution” would be held accountable.
Many Democrats criticized Perry’s aggressive reaction to the indictment and accused him of trying to shift the blame.
Yet state Sen. Wendy Davis, the face of the party in Texas who’s running a high-profile campaign for governor, took a more cautious tone Saturday.
“The charges that were brought down by the grand jury are very, very serious,” Davis said, adding that she trusted the justice system to do its job.
Tensions between Republicans and the public integrity unit have simmered for years. Conservatives have long grumbled that the unit operates through a partisan lens and targets Republicans.