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Texas Appeals Court Tosses Final Felony Charge Against Former Gov. Rick Perry

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at an event in Washington in Sept. 2015.
Jose Luis Magana
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at an event in Washington in Sept. 2015.

Texas' top appeals court has dismissed the remaining felony abuse-of-power charge against former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The Court of Criminal Appeals also upheld a lower court's ruling dismissing the other charge against Perry.

This all started when a grand jury indicted Perry in August 2014, as Perry was ramping up his campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. His bid came to an end in September 2015. Perry was the first in the crowded Republican field to suspend his campaign.

NPR's John Burnett tells our Newscast unit that "Perry complained all along that the felony indictment tanked his presidential aspirations."

As member station KUT reports, "the charges stemmed from Perry's 2013 threat to veto funding for the Travis County District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes state corruption cases." Here's more from KUT:

"A grand jury indicted Perry on charges that he coerced a public official and abused his office when he threatened to veto the funds if Travis County [District Attorney] Rosemary Lehmberg did not resign following a drunk driving conviction.

"A lower court had already dismissedthe coercion charge, ruling that the law it was based on was unconstitutionally vague. The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld that dismissal."

As we reported at the time, Perry followed through on his threat to veto the funds to the Public Integrity Unit after Lehmberg refused to resign.

That was the crux of the other charge against Perry: "abuse of official capacity," which the appeals court dismissed. In its ruling, the court wrote, "The governor's power to exercise a veto may not be circumscribed by the Legislature, by the courts, or by district attorneys."

The intended recipient of the funds that Perry vetoed, the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit, had been investigating one of Perry's favorite projects. That's the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which, as NPR's Wade Goodwyn has reported, was plagued with accusations of corruption and conflict of interest.

Here's how The Washington Post boiled down the arguments in the case in 2014:

"It appears to those on the governor's side of the argument that he has the right to cut the funding of agencies run by people who will not quit on his demand.

"It appears to those on the prosecutor's side that his funding veto and the threat that preceded it were an attempt to intimidate and coerce the office that has the job of policing corruption and ethics cases in state government.

"The threat is the thing. Had the governor simply cut the funding without saying anything — especially in public, but even in private — this would just be a strange veto."

Perry's attorney Tony Buzbee told The Associated Press that his client is "pleased the charges have been thrown out." He called it "a bunch of foolishness from the beginning."

But Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice told KUT in an email "that the dismissal is a gift to Perry from a partisan court."

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

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