AUSTIN, Texas – A Texas judge opted Monday not to issue an arrest warrant against Gov. Rick Perry, but the Republican still faces the unflattering prospect of being booked, fingerprinted and having his mug shot taken – and has assembled a team of high-powered attorneys to fight the two felony counts of abuse of power against him.
Leading conservatives around the country have mostly lined up to support the longest-serving governor in Texas history, and Perry’s aides said the case won’t derail his busy travel schedule, which includes visits to several key presidential battleground states as he continues to eye a second run for the White House in 2016.
“This is nothing more than banana republic politics,” Tony Buzbee a Houston-based defense attorney who will head a cadre of four lawyers from Texas and Washington defending Perry, said at a news conference. “The charges lobbed against the governor are a really nasty attack not only on the rule of law but on the Constitution of the United States, the state of Texas and also the fundamental constitutional protections that we all enjoy.”
Perry on Friday became the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted, and is facing charges of coercion and official oppression that carry a maximum sentence of 109 years in prison for carrying out a threat to veto funding for the state’s public integrity unit last summer.
The governor has emphatically stood by his veto and denied all wrongdoing. The judge overseeing the case, Republican Bert Richardson, decided against issuing an arrest warrant and instead a special prosecutor appointed to the matter was planning a simple legal summons. That still means a booking is in Perry’s future.
Buzbee said he didn’t know exactly when those would occur but that the governor has no intention of hiding: “That’s going to be something, that when he goes in to be booked and take his picture that we’re going to let you know about.”
A summons was being prepared to hold Perry’s arraignment – a court appearance to answer the charges – on Aug. 29 at 9 a.m., according to the Travis County District Clerk’s Office. But Perry spokesman Felix Browne said Monday evening that date had not been confirmed, adding that the governor wouldn’t need to appear personally at the arraignment. Perry would appear personally at his booking.
A grand jury in Austin, a liberal bastion in otherwise largely conservative Texas, indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto $7.5 million in funding for the state’s public integrity unit after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to resign following a drunken driving arrest. The ethics unit is housed under Lehmberg’s office.
No one disputes that Perry has the power to veto measures approved by the Legislature, but his threat to do so before actually carrying it out prompted a complaint from a left-leaning watchdog group.
The grand jury met for months before handing down its indictment, and Perry’s $450 per-hour defense attorney was paid using state funds. Buzbee said the public will continue footing the bill for the governor’s now pricier legal team, though he said a private foundation could eventually be established to handle some of the costs.
Word that Perry avoided an arrest warrant raised questions of favoritism, but legal observers said forgoing an arrest warrant is common in white-collar cases. Former U.S. Attorney Matt Orwig said that insisting on an arrest warrant for Perry would have been “grandstanding.”
“He’s obviously not a flight risk or danger to the community,” Orwig said.
The public integrity unit also led the case against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, a fellow Texas Republican who was convicted in 2010 on campaign finance charges, but eventually had them overturned on appeal.
Dick DeGuerin, a Houston attorney who defended DeLay, said the congressman was originally issued a summons – and it wasn’t until DeLay’s legal team had some of the indictments against him thrown out that prosecutors sought an arrest warrant. DeLay eventually turned himself in and, wearing a suit and American flag lapel pin, smiled wide for his mug shot.
“It turned out to be kind of a glamour shot,” DeGuerin said.
Aides said the case wouldn’t prevent Perry from maintaining his packed upcoming schedule, which includes visits to the key presidential battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the next two weeks. Perry also has a Thursday speech on immigration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
The governor is attempting to rebrand himself to a national audience after stumbling badly during his short-lived 2012 presidential campaign.
Potential 2016 presidential rival and Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released a statement Monday saying he has “complete faith and confidence in Governor Perry’s honesty and integrity,” echoing similar sentiments from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, all of whom may eventually seek the GOP White House nomination. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said the charges “could well help” Perry.
“It is an attack. It also is coming out of a county where you wouldn’t expect even-handedness,” said Branstad, a Republican.
Conservatives also have been quick to note that a video recording made at the jail showed Lehmberg shouting at staffers, kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out at deputies. Perry’s attorneys showed the “outrageous” video again while addressing reporters Monday.
Not everyone was backing Perry, though. In Pennsylvania, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s re-election campaign removed a video endorsement by the Texas governor from its website following Perry’s indictment.