A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on Friday on charges of abuse of power and coercion as part of an ethics inquiry into his veto of funding for the state’s public integrity unit.
The inquiry began last summer after a ethics complaint was filed, alleging that Perry had improperly used a veto to deny funding for the unit, which is housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office and focuses on government corruption and tax fraud.
After District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving last year, Perry threatened to withhold $7.5 million in funding over two years for the integrity unit if Lehmberg did not resign.
Lehmberg, a Democrat, served a jail sentence but did not resign. Perry made good on his promise and vetoed the state budget’s funding line item for the unit. Though Perry has the authority to veto items in the budget, his critics said that this was done expressly for political purposes and is a crime.
That was the rationale used by Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning money-in-politics watchdog group that filed the initial complaint last June. The complaint said Perry was guilty of coercion of a public servant, official oppression and abuse of official capacity.
Perry’s office has repeatedly said that his veto was appropriate and that he violated no laws.
The Austin-American Statesman reported in June that Perry would probably not testify before the grand jury, which has been meeting periodically for months, though several staffers from his office and from Travis County testified.
Last August, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to provide some of the funding to the public integrity unit.
Lehmberg declined to comment.
Gilad Edelman, Jay Root and Terri Langford contributed reporting.