Texas Gov. Rick Perry appeared in court Thursday for the first hearing on two felony abuse of power charges. Lawyers for the Republican once (and possible future) presidential candidate pushed for the case, which stems from an indictment handed down by an Austin grand jury in August, to be dismissed on technicalities, the Associated Press reported.
Perry is charged with two felony counts of abuse of power for threatening to veto $7.5 million in state funding for the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after she pleaded guilty to drunk driving and served a 45-day sentence. The threat was seen by Democrats as an attempt to push her out of the position and defang the prosecutor's office, which has long investigated public corruption in Texas.
Perry, who is seen as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, was largely silent during the Thursday appearance. But he has said the case arose from a political vendetta, and attorneys for both sides argued heatedly during the hearing, the AP reported. The judge let Perry skip two pretrial hearings, and is expected to rule later Thursday on whether to proceed with the trial.
Perry's attorney, Tony Buzbee, argued that the special prosecutor on the case, Michael McCrum, was not sworn in properly, a technicality that should disqualify the case against his high-profile client from proceeding. “Game over," Buzbee told the court.
But McCrum argued that the argument is unfounded under state law. “Mr. Perry, through his attorneys, can’t create or invent Texas law that’s not there,” he said, according to the AP.
The specific felony charges Perry faces are abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, which carry a maximum sentence of 109 years.