Perry Pushes Back Against Allegations He Overstepped His Authority

Tess Vigeland talks to Ben Philpott of member station KUT about the indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on charges of abuse of power. The governor spoke for the first time since the charges, saying he acted within his power.

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TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. Arun Rath is away. I'm Tess Vigeland. A Texas grand jury indicted Governor Rick Perry yesterday on charges of abuse of power. He's accused of overstepping his authority by using his veto power to coerce political opponents. Governor Perry addressed the accusations this afternoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto. And I'll continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as Governor.

VIGELAND: Ben Philpott is a political reporter for member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Hi, Ben.

BEN PHILPOTT: Hello.

VIGELAND: Let's review what the grand jury says Governor Perry did. Explain this indictment for us.

PHILPOTT: So there are two indictments - one was for coercion, one was for misuse of state property - the state property being money that was appropriated by the legislature. Both of them focus on his veto threat and then eventual veto of money for the state's Public Integrity unit, which is a prosecutorial unit that has jurisdiction over state lawmakers and state agencies. He wanted the head of that unit to resign because she had pleaded guilty to drunk driving and served time in jail - said if you don't resign, I'm going to zero out your budget. She did not resign. He zeroed out the budget. And that then a complaint was filed after that.

VIGELAND: Talk to us about Perry's message this afternoon - certainly defiant.

PHILPOTT: Yeah, absolutely. He said this was essentially just partisan politics. He said it was an abuse of power. That statement is a little interesting in that the special prosecutor assigned to this is a Republican. There was a two-judge Republican panel that allowed the complaint to move forward so that a special prosecutor would be named. I guess maybe the abuse of power lies within the grand jury. The make-up of the grand jury which does come from Travis County, which is a Democratic county within Texas. But yeah, absolutely this is partisan politics. He says it's a sham, and he's ready to defend himself.

VIGELAND: Ben, you've covered Texas politics for a long time. What is the potential political fallout of this indictment for Perry, for his party and for his first presidential aspirations?

PHILPOTT: You know, just as Governor Perry seemed to be regaining his footing and looking like someone who might have a shot at the Republican nomination - being considered a serious candidate for the Republican nomination you know, this comes up. He's - it can't help him, obviously, and with a strong opponent in state in Senator Ted Cruz, who was also most likely going to run for president, you know, once that mug shot is available, it's something that is going to be brought up over and over again, like we kind of assumed his oops moment from 2012 would be brought up over and over again.

VIGELAND: Ben, how have the citizens of Texas been reacting to this news?

PHILPOTT: You know, at the moment, it's been - those that are paying attention, you know. This is a week before schools are starting back here around Texas. A lot of people are still on vacation. But those that are paying attention - it's the same kind of partisan response you would expect - people who didn't like Governor Perry are rejoicing, people who support Governor Perry are saying the same line he gave today - it's all partisan politics.

VIGELAND: All right, Ben Philpott is a political reporter for member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Ben, thank you.

PHILPOTT: Thank you.

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