WASHINGTON (AP) – Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sunday defended the veto that led a grand jury to indict him on two felony counts of abuse of power, noting that even some Democrats have questioned the move by prosecutors.
"I stood up for the rule of law in the state of Texas, and if I had to do it again I would make exactly the same decision," Perry, a potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, said.
Already the longest-serving governor in state history, Perry has made it clear that he plans to complete his third and final term in January as planned. In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," the governor noted that David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, had called the indictment "sketchy" while Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz had questioned the move.
"Across the board you're seeing people weigh in and reflecting that this is way outside of the norm. This is not the way that we settle differences, political differences in this country," Perry said. "You don't do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box."
A Travis County grand jury on Friday indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto state funds to the local district attorney, an elected Democrat, unless she resigned following her arrest and conviction for drunken driving. That 2013 veto prompted a criminal investigation.
Perry said he had lost confidence in the prosecutor and had been clear about his intentions to veto the funding. The governor said Sunday that the indictment reflected a larger problem of government agencies not following the rule of law, pointing to the Internal Revenue Service scandal in Washington and concerns about National Security Agency surveillance.
Several Republicans have come to Perry's defense and the governor has received words of support from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"This is the criminalization of just the legislative function and when you do that you weaken democracy. This is certainly a political attack, and this is very bad precedent," said Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio, who appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Perry is the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted. The charges came as he has sought to reintroduce himself to Republican leaders and rank-and-file party members eager to win back the White House. Several stumbles during his presidential bid in 2012 led to his early departure from the race.
Perry's veto cut $7.5 million in funding to the state's ethics watchdog housed in the county district attorney's office. A state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group, which accused Perry of trying to leverage his power to force the resignation of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
That unit of public corruption investigators is based in Austin, a liberal haven in the mostly conservative state. Voters in the county reliably elect a Democrat to serve as district attorney.
Perry said Saturday he was confident that he would prevail and said those responsible for this "farce of a prosecution" would be held accountable.
Many Democrats criticized Perry's aggressive reaction to the indictment and accused him of trying to shift the blame.
Yet state Sen. Wendy Davis, the face of the party in Texas who's running a high-profile campaign for governor, took a more cautious tone Saturday.
"The charges that were brought down by the grand jury are very, very serious," Davis said, adding that she trusted the justice system to do its job.
Tensions between Republicans and the public integrity unit have simmered for years. Conservatives have long grumbled that the unit operates through a partisan lens and targets Republicans.