A grand jury in Texas indicted Gov. Rick Perry on Friday alleging abuse of power in office.
The Republican’s conservative allies fired right back with their own accusation: This is a witch hunt.
Perry, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, is accused of trying to coerce a Democratic official who oversees an agency that investigates public corruption to resign after she was arrested on a drunken driving charge. He threatened to veto millions from her public integrity unit if she didn’t, leading to criticism he had overstepped his authority.
One charge Perry was indicted on, abuse of official capacity, is a first-degree felony that could carry from five to 99 years in prison; a second charge, coercion of a public servant, is a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years, according to The Associated Press.
The indictment is a blow to Perry just as he’s trying to rehabilitate his image after a disastrous 2012 presidential run. But he also is the third major potential White House candidate on the Republican side — the others being Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin — to face legal problems at a time when no clear GOP standard-bearer has appeared in the run-up to 2016.
How much support Perry — who is considered a long shot for the White House — gets from fellow Republicans in the long run may depend on whether he’s convicted, and it’s unclear when a trial would be held. And privately, several Republican strategists predicted a rough road for a presidential candidate under indictment.
Still, the quick defense of Perry from some conservatives suggests the blow might be more of a blessing for the governor in corners of the Republican Party that could be helpful to him in a primary run.
“Breaking: Travis County prosecutor indicts Rick Perry for trying to cut the prosecutor’s budget,” conservative writer Eric Erickson posted on Twitter.
Republican strategist Bruce Haynes of Purple Strategies said Democrats who try to use this against Perry should “beware.”
“GOP state level activists love nothing more right now than a leader with the guts to stand up against a system they believe is failing the people and protecting the elites,” he wrote in an email. “Ultimately this may not be a threat to Perry as much as it is a gift.”
Meanwhile, on Friday night, just as word was spreading about the indictment, Perry’s political action committee, RickPAC, sent out a fundraising solicitation via Twitter. “I started RickPAC to help elect strong candidates that share the conservative vision for the nation. Donate today!” it said before sharing a link.
Perry’s lawyer, David L. Botsford, said in a statement that he was “outraged and appalled” by the Travis County grand jury’s decision, which he described as “political abuse of the court system.”
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