WASHINGTON — Undeterred by indictment, Texas Gov. Rick Perry intends to travel to three major 2016 primary states during the next two weeks even as he faces the prospects of a highly unpresidential booking on felony charges.
Perry, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, could answer two felony counts of abuse of power this week and be forced to sit for a booking photo and fingerprinting in response to a political dispute that has roiled his home state. The governor has tried to rally conservatives to his cause, saying the indictment is symbolic of government overreach.
“This is not the way that we settle differences, political differences in this country,” Perry said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday.” ”You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.”
Yet for Perry, who stumbled in his 2012 presidential campaign, the allegations could pose a distraction and complicate his attempts to gain a second look from Republicans in early voting states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. The details of the prosecution and timing of any trial remain unknown, and it is unclear how Republican activists will respond to a presidential candidate who has been indicted.
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The special prosecutor bringing the case against Perry, San Antonio-based Michael McCrum, said he would meet Monday with Perry’s defense attorney, David L. Botsford, and with the judge overseeing the case, Bert Richardson, to begin discussing next steps.
It was unclear when the governor might be booked or appear at the Travis County Courthouse, which is located just steps from the governor’s mansion in Austin. In the booking, he could face fingerprinting and a photograph, bringing to mind the photo of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who grinned broadly for his mug shot and pleaded innocent to campaign finance conspiracy charges. DeLay was later acquitted on appeal.
Aides said Perry planned to maintain his public schedule, including a Thursday speech on immigration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, and then a visit to New Hampshire next weekend. The governor is scheduled to appear at a slate of activities there: events in Portsmouth, Manchester and Nashua on Friday, followed by a rally Saturday in Stratham and Republican gatherings in Rochester and Chichester.
Later this month, Perry is expected at a larger Americans for Prosperity gathering in Dallas, which will also feature Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Then he plans to be in South Carolina on Aug. 27-28 for appearances that include a college football game at the University of South Carolina against Texas A&M, Perry’s alma mater.
Perry is scheduled to return to Iowa, home of the nation’s leadoff presidential caucuses, on Sept. 1-2, and then departs on a weeklong Texas trade mission to Japan and China, which will include stops in Beijing and the World Economic Forum in Tianjin.
Potential 2016 presidential rivals such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Cruz, a fellow Texan, have denounced the indictment and Republicans have said the facts of the case could prompt conservatives to rally behind Perry.
“Nobody wants to get indicted but the basis of the indictment is so preposterous that ultimately it could be a political benefit,” said Phil Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto $7.5 million in funding to the state’s ethics watchdog, led by a local district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, an elected Democrat, unless she resigned following her arrest and conviction for drunken driving. It was the same public integrity unit that prosecuted DeLay.
A state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group.
Conservatives note that a video recording made at the jail showed Lehmberg shouting at staffers, kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out at deputies.
“A public official getting drunk and arrested is something we have experienced in South Carolina and the base voters will award Perry for standing firm,” said Katon Dawson, a Perry ally and former South Carolina GOP chairman. “Plus, Rick has friends in South Carolina who are with him and that matters.”
Perry has said the indictment is reflective of a larger problem of government agencies not following the rule of law and said Sunday that some Democrats have questioned the wisdom of his indictment, pointing to comments by David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz.
Democrats point out that McCrumb, the special prosecutor, was appointed by a Republican judge, undercutting Perry’s argument about partisanship.
KEN THOMAS, Associated Press
Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.