AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry will vigorously fight a two-count felony indictment returned by a state grand jury last week charging him with abuse of power, his lawyers said on Monday, calling the prosecution “outrageous.”
The indictment has cast a shadow over Perry’s possible bid for the Republican presidential nomination, with experts predicting that legal wrangling in the case is likely to stretch into the 2016 election cycle.
A state district court judge set Perry’s arraignment for Aug. 29, but the hearing date was shifted to Friday, Aug. 22, due to a scheduling conflict, according to the Austin American-Statesman and other media.
Perry was indicted on Friday by a grand jury in Travis County, a Democratic stronghold in the heavily Republican state, over his veto of funding for a state ethics watchdog that has investigated prominent Texas Republicans.
“Governor Perry will fight this indictment 100 percent,” defense lawyer Tony Buzbee told a news conference, adding the veto was lawful.
“This is nothing more than banana republic politics,” Buzbee said, calling the charges an “outrageous assault on the rule of law.”
Perry became the target of an ethics probe last year after he vetoed $7.5 million in funding for the state public integrity unit run out of the Travis County district attorney’s office.
The veto was widely viewed as intended to force the resignation of county District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after she pleaded guilty to drunken driving but remained in office.
Democrats have said Perry may have been looking to put an ally in charge of the unit, extending what they see as cronyism in his administration.
The more serious of the two felony charges carries a prison sentence of five to 99 years.
The indictment may not have much influence in the Republican presidential primaries, where Perry could try to rally support by portraying himself as a conservative victim of a partisan legal attack launched by Democrats, analysts have said.
But it could undermine backing from major donors and party heavyweights who see the legal case as hurting his general election chances.
After flaming out in a gaffe-strewn campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Perry has been attempting a political comeback that gained him national attention for accusing President Barack Obama of doing too little to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Because of the context of his 2012 run, there is already some trepidation about how electable is this guy,” said Daron Shaw, a political science professor at the University of Texas. “This could reinforce this reticence, and that would be a problem for him.”
Editing by Eric Walsh, Steve Gorman, Peter Cooney and Clarence Fernandez