Defense attorneys representing Gov. Rick Perry said Monday that there was nothing illegal or inappropriate about his veto of funding for the state's public integrity unit after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg declined to resign in the wake of a drunken driving conviction.
And they reaffirmed what the longest-serving Texas governor said Saturday: that they would aggressively fight the felony charges.
"This is nothing more than banana republic politics," said Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, who is heading up the Republican governor's legal team.
Lehmberg refused Perry's request that she step down, despite a raucous display at both her arrest and her booking that were caught on video, made public, and shown on a large screen to reporters by the governor's lawyers at a press conference on Monday. Lehmberg, a Democrat, would've been replaced by a Perry appointee — although there was a behind-the scenes effort to find a more palatable solution.
Perry later made good on his threat, vetoing the $7.5 million budgeted to fund the unit.
Buzbee said the governor's actions were right and correct and that the legal team would prevail against an indictment that was "absolutely improper."
The legal inquiry began last summer after an 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.
Lehmberg and other Travis County officials recused themselves from the case and are not prosecuting it. A Republican judge from Bexar County, Bert Richardson, appointed a special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, to handle the prosecution.
On Friday, a Travis County grand jury indicted Perry on two charges: abuse of official capacity, which carries a five- to 99-year prison sentence, and coercion of a public servant, which is punishable by between two and 10 years in prison.
Disclosure: Tony Buzbee was a major donor to The Texas Tribune in 2012. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.