May 16, 2014

Perry aides enter grand jury room amid veto inquiry

It’s the first time the governor’s staff has been seen entering the grand jury room during an investigation into whether Rick Perry abused his power.

Several top aides to Gov. Rick Perry went into a grand jury room Friday as the panel investigates whether the governor abused his powers with a 2013 veto.

Mike Morrissey, Perry’s deputy chief of staff; Ken Armbrister, the legislative director; Rich Parsons, a Perry spokesman; and Mary Anne Wiley, the governor’s general counsel, declined to comment Friday as they entered the grand jury room.

They wouldn’t say whether they were subpoenaed or came voluntarily.

It’s the first time Perry’s staff has been seen entering the grand jury room at the Travis County Courthouse in relation to the investigation.

The panel is looking into whether Perry broke the law when he vowed to veto funding for Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s anti-corruption unit if the Democrat didn’t resign after a drunken-driving arrest.

Lehmberg refused to resign, and Perry vetoed $7.5 million. A political watchdog group filed a complaint alleging that Perry had tried to coerce Lehmberg to leave office.

Perry has said he never sought a deal with Lehmberg, and his aides insist the governor was within his rights to exercise his line-item veto power that way.

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor investigating Perry, has said he has specific concerns about Perry, though he has refused to elaborate. No charges have been filed.

The inquiry could pose a problem for Perry, who is considering another run at the White House in 2016.

Perry, the longest-serving governor in state history, will not seek re-election. His term ends in January.

Spokeswoman Lucy Nashed declined to say Friday whether Perry has been subpoenaed.

“We respect the long-standing legal principle of grand jury confidentiality, and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment on the proceedings. The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto power afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution, and we remain ready and willing to assist with this inquiry,” Nashed said.

Lehmberg said this week that Perry’s personal attorney asked the judge who seated the grand jury to allow the use of a discreet entrance away from reporters staking out the main doorway in the public portion of the courthouse. There is a private entrance to the grand jury room through Lehmberg’s office, but the Perry staffers used the main door Friday.

“I said that is not something we routinely do — that is, bring witnesses secretly to the grand jury,” Lehmberg said. “We have had many public officials appear through the grand jury, and all come through the front door of the lobby. But if the judge calls me and wants to do that, I’ll do what’s appropriate.”

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