AUSTIN, Texas – A judge isn’t issuing an arrest warrant for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a court official said Monday, and the Republican is planning to continue galloping around the country gearing up for a possible 2016 presidential run – despite being indicted on two felony counts of abuse of power back home.
Perry on Friday became the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted, and is facing charges that carry a maximum sentence of 109 years in prison for carrying out a threat to veto funding for the state’s public integrity unit last summer.
Perry has emphatically denied all wrongdoing. His attorneys scheduled a Monday afternoon news conference in Austin to discuss their next moves.
Linda Estrada, a Travis County grand jury clerk, said that the judge overseeing the case, Bert Richardson, decided against issuing an arrest warrant.
Instead, Perry will receive a summons which has not been issued yet. He eventually will have to be booked and fingerprinted.
A grand jury in Austin indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto $7.5 million in funding for the state’s public integrity unit after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to resign following a drunken driving arrest. The ethics watchdog unit is housed under Lehmberg’s office.
No one disputes that Perry has the power to veto measures approved by the Legislature, but the veto vow prompted a complaint from a left-leaning watch dog group. Richardson, a Republican, assigned a special prosecutor to lead the case against Perry, who has been charged with abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
Word that his attorneys were negotiating a court appearance raised some questions about favoritism, but legal observers said forgoing an arrest warrant is common in white-collar cases. Former U.S. Attorney Matt Orwig said that insisting on an arrest warrant for Perry would have been “grandstanding.”
“He’s obviously not a flight risk or danger to the community,” Orwig said. “That doesn’t mean there’s still not the indignities of booking.”
The public integrity unit also led the case against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, a fellow Texas Republican who was convicted in 2010 on campaign finance charges, but eventually had them overturned on appeal.
Dick DeGuerin, a Houston attorney who defended DeLay, said the congressman was originally issued a summons – and it wasn’t until DeLay’s legal team had some of the indictments against him thrown out that prosecutors sought an arrest warrant. DeLay eventually turned himself in and smiled wide for his mug shot.
“It turned out to be kind of a glamour shot,” DeGuerin said.
Perry has dismissed the case against him as a political ploy. Still, a booking photo may not be the message Perry wants to send as he tries to rebuild a national image tarnished when he stumbled badly during his short-lived 2012 White House run.
Aides said Perry planned to maintain his public schedule, which includes visits to the key presidential battleground states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in the next two weeks. Perry has a Thursday speech on immigration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, and then a visit to New Hampshire next weekend.
Potential 2016 presidential rivals such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Cruz 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.
Conservatives also 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.”
Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report from Washington.