TEXAS — The head of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s newly unveiled legal team declared that last week’s grand jury indictment of the potential 2016 GOP presidential contender has “no merit” and constitutes an “outrageous assault on the rule of law” that is certain to be rejected in the courts.
“Let me be clear about this,” Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said on Monday. “Governor Perry will fight this indictment one hundred percent. And at the end of the day he will prevail because he is on the side of the rule of law.”
Buzbee, addressing reporters at a news conference in Austin, was flanked by prominent Republican attorney Bobby Burchfield, criminal lawyer David Botsford and former Romney presidential campaign legal counsel Ben Ginsberg.
A grand jury in Travis County indicted Perry last Friday on two felony counts stemming from his threat to veto funding for a statewide public integrity unit run by Travis Country District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, unless she stepped down, according to the special prosecutor in the case, Michael McCrum.
The case centers on Perry’s June 2013 veto of the $7.5 million budget for the unit run by Lehmberg, after she refused his demand to resign following her drunken driving arrest and conviction.
Perry faces accusations of coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity in connection with the threat and veto.
Perry will be booked Tuesday at the Travis County Court in Austin. He will be fingerprinted and have his mug shot taken, according to Buzbee. Perry’s first court appearance is Friday.
Perry’s lawyers, who played video snippets of an apparently intoxicated Lehmberg in police custody, insisted the governor had a legal right to tie funding for the public integrity unit to Lehmberg’s removal.
“Governor Perry did what anyone else would do,” Buzbee said. “Anyone who sees that video” would have “lost confidence” in Lehmberg.
That said, the lawyers argued that the governor had no legal obligation to offer any rationale for his veto, which they insisted was protected the basic constitutional principle of separation of powers.
“This is nothing more than banana republic politics” and a “nasty attack” on the “rule of law,” Buzbee insisted.
And Perry’s explanation of his veto, Buzbee added, was protected under the “right to free speech under the First Amendment.”
Birchfield called the indictment “an attempt to criminalize politics, pure and simple,” while Ginsberg warned that it could “set a harmful precedent in separation of powers doctrine.”
It needs to be fought “as a matter of principle,” he said.
As for Perry’s looming summons, Buzbee acknowledged that “there will of course be a point where Governor Perry will have to appear.”
“But that is not something we are going to keep you in the dark about,” he told the reporters, possibly reflecting growing confidence among the governor’s advisers that they can turn the controversy to his political advantage.
So far, other prominent Republicans have rallied to Perry’s defense.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the head of the Republican Governor’s Association and another potential 2016 presidential candidate, issued a statement Monday declaring his “complete faith and confidence” in Perry’s “honesty and integrity.”
And former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul on Monday called Perry’s indictment “a joke.”
Asked if Texas taxpayers would pay Perry’s legal bills, the team acknowledged that the public would pick up some share of the cost for his defense.