Politics & Government

Rick Perry enters GOP presidential race still under indictment

Former Gov. Rick Perry
Former Gov. Rick Perry Associated Press archives

Rick Perry has been doing all the things people do as they prepare to run for president: talking to donors, attending candidate cattle calls in early-voting states – including last weekend’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Iowa – and glad-handing voters.

The former Texas governor released a campaign video announcing his bid to be president overnight and will make a formal announcement in the Dallas suburb of Addison at 11:30 a.m. today. But unlike the more than a dozen other Republicans who are either in the presidential race already or on the verge, he has another factor at play.

Hanging over his head is an indictment in Texas on charges of abuse of power when he was governor.

Perry, who says the charges are baseless and politically motivated, had expected to be able to kill the indictment by now.

His high-powered legal team has been engaged in a frenetic effort to have the two-count indictment, handed down in August, thrown out.

But the presiding judge, a Republican, has repeatedly refused to do so, and lawyers are waiting on a recently empaneled Texas appellate court for a hearing. In addition, there’s speculation in legal circles on whether one of the three judges, a close Perry ally, might recuse himself.

In the latest filing, May 13, Perry’s attorneys urged the court to “speedily grant” relief. But it’s unlikely that a hearing or a decision will come anytime soon, certainly not before Perry’s presidential rollout this month, legal experts say.

“He’s been furiously trying to get this indictment dismissed,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, a political watchdog group that filed the original complaint against Perry.

At issue is a threat Perry made as governor in 2013 to veto funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit, part of the Travis County district attorney’s office, unless county District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, resigned after being arrested for drunken driving.

She pleaded guilty – the arrest and booking videotape shows her being belligerent to officers – but refused to resign, and Perry vetoed the funding.

He’s charged with two felonies: abusing his office and coercing a public servant.

The special prosecutor charged in a February filing that Perry wanted “to stymie” the watchdog unit, which was investigating some of the governor’s programs.

“The case is meritless and should have never been brought in the first place,” Anthony Buzbee, Perry’s lead attorney, said by email. “It has been a huge waste of time and resources.”

It’s also been a distraction, although Perry has recently been focused on campaigning and his RickPAC spokesman, Travis Considine, said “it hardly ever comes up” in meetings with voters. “When it does come up, it’s, ‘Governor, we stand with you and your standing up for constitutional principles,’” Considine said. RickPAC is Perry’s political action committee.

To some Republican primary voters, the indictment is something of a badge of honor, coming from prosecutors in liberal Travis County, a Democratic enclave where the state capital, Austin, is located. Texas is largely Republican.

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