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Texas' Perry charged with coercion for veto threat

AUSTIN, Texas -- A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for allegedly abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption — making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state's first indicted governor in nearly a century.

A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix US$7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit, which is run by Travis County Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's office. Lehmberg was convicted of drunken driving, but refused Perry's calls to resign.

Perry's general counsel, Marry Anne Wiley, defended the governor's action.

“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” she said. “We will continue to aggressively defend the governor's lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

Several top aides to the Republican governor appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. Perry himself did not testify, though.

Grand jurors indicted Perry on abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.

A spokesman for the governor didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.

No one disputes that Perry is allowed to veto measures approved by the Legislature, including part or all of the state budget. But the left-leaning Texans for Public Justice government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint accusing the governor of coercion because he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so in an attempt to pressure Lehmberg to quit.

“I took into account the fact that we're talking about a governor of a state — and a governor of the state of Texas, which we all love,” said Michael McCrum, the San Antonio-based special prosecutor. “Obviously that carries a lot of importance. But when it gets down to it, the law is the law.”

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In this file photo, Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivers a speech to nearly 300 in attendance at the 2014 RedState Gathering, in Fort Worth, Texas, Aug. 8. (AP)

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