August 21, 2014

Taxpayers won’t be on hook for Perry defense after all

Governor’s staff says indictments are “an assault on the Constitution. We don’t want it to be an assault on the taxpayers as well.”

Gov. Rick Perry, who has been using taxpayer dollars to pay his defense lawyers, will tap campaign funds from now on to compensate the attorneys who are fighting his felony indictments, his staff now says.

Perry spokesman Felix Browne said the governor, who has blasted the indictments as a “farce,” did not want to saddle taxpayers with the cost of a wrongful prosecution.

“This is an assault on the Constitution,” Browne said. “We don’t want it to be an assault on the taxpayers as well.”

Perry will use funds in his state campaign account, he said. As of June 30, the account had more than $4 million in it.

State records show taxpayers have spent about $80,000 so far to represent Perry as he faced criminal investigation. He was indicted last week on two felony counts stemming from allegedly abusing his office with a threat to veto funds destined for the state’s public integrity unit, which oversees public corruption cases.

Before that decision, Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed had defended using state funds as appropriate because the criminal prosecution stems from his role as the state’s chief executive.

“This case involved actions that he took in his official capacity as governor under his constitutional veto authority,” Nashed said.

Democrats had highlighted the taxpayer-funded legal fees in their attacks on both Perry and Greg Abbott, the Republican attorney general seeking to be the next governor.

“Perry should have to cover his legal expenses,” said Matt Angle, head of the Democratic Lone Star Project. “It’s extraordinary and indefensible that Greg Abbott and Rick Perry would want taxpayers to pay to both prosecute him and defend him.”

Cover-up claims

Meanwhile, Perry’s lawyers Thursday dismissed allegations he was involved in a cover-up to block a probe of a state cancer-research agency, calling the claims a “red herring.”

Perry, 64, a Republican regarded as a contender for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, was indicted Aug. 15 on two felony counts that he abused his authority by trying to force out of office Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat.

According to Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that filed an initial complaint, Perry’s attempt to remove Lehmberg was designed to block an investigation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which had been criticized for sending state funds to Republican donors.

Perry was never a target of an ethics task force probe into the claims the cancer-research agency funneled money to the governor’s supporters, according to a sworn statement from a member of the investigative group.

“Any suggestion that Governor Rick Perry or anyone associated with him was being investigated is untrue,” Chris Walling, a former prosecutor with the Public Integrity Unit, said in the affidavit. “At no time did I ever obtain evidence that suggested any wrongdoing on behalf of Governor Rick Perry or the Governor’s office.”

More threats?

In another development, a state district judge in Austin said Thursday that she intends to protect members of the grand jury that indicted perry from any threats from the governor or anyone else.

Judge Julie Kocurek of the 390th District Court, a Democrat, said Perry’s Saturday statement, issued a day after the indictment, could be construed as a threat and possible violation of the law. Kocurek, as the administrative presiding judge of all criminal courts in the county, said that “no one is above the law,” and the public needs to know that grand jurors are legally protected from any threat.

“I have a duty to make sure that our members of the grand jury are protected,” Kocurek said. “I am defending the integrity of our grand jury system.”

The judge said that Perry might have made a veiled threat when he said: “I am confident we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and that those responsible will be held to account.”

This report includes material from Bloomberg News and the Austin American-Statesman.

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