(WASHINGTON) — In a move panned by most Republicans and even some Democrats as largely “political,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted on two felony charges following his veto of state funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office — a public integrity unit led by a Democratic lawyer convicted of driving drunk.
Perry, accused of abusing his official capacity and coercing a public servant, said he refused to fund the office because Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg “lost the public’s confidence by acting inappropriately and unethically” following her high-profile DWI arrest and conviction. If she did step down, the governor would name her replacement.
Lehmberg, 63, was apprehended in April 2013 with an open bottle of vodka in her car and a blood alcohol level of 0.23 — nearly three times the 0.08 legal limit. She later pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
In videos taken the night of the arrest, a stumbling Lehmberg repeatedly insists she’s not drunk, swats away officers’ attempts to steady her, and maintains she can’t pass the field sobriety test because of a bad back.
“I am not doing this. If you want to take me to jail, take me to jail, okay. And you’re going to ruin my career, and that’s fine,” she laughs sardonically. “But I’m not drunk. …I don’t think you smell alcohol and, um, I haven’t erratically drive [sic].”
“You having a good time watching this?” she snarls at the officer. “Yes, yes you are.”
Once in custody, Lehmberg appears increasingly belligerent, kicking her cell door, grimacing, berating officers and even pantomiming shooting a gun at the camera — forcing officers to place her in restraints.
“I’m the district attorney. Get these cuffs off of me,” she demands, calling the arrest “crazy,” “stupid” and “silly.”
“Look at this! I’m restrained like a criminal!” she adds.
Keenly aware of the effect the visuals could have on her career as the most powerful DA in the state, Lehmberg nevertheless refuses to cooperate with officers.
“You’re about to ruin my career,” Lehmberg says. “You don’t understand what you’re doing to me. …Tomorrow morning the [Austin] American Statesman is going to report that I was arrested for DWI. …Congratulations, you guys.”
The day after the incident, Lehmberg released a statement apologizing for her behavior but indicating that she did not plan to step down.
She later announced she would not seek a third term, saying, “There can be no anger directed at me — or disappointment in me — greater than my own.”
Perry said at a news conference Saturday that Lehmberg “is not an individual who is heading up an office that we can afford to fund.”
“I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto. … Given that choice again, that is exactly what I would do,” he added.
“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” Perry’s lawyer, Mary Anne Wiley, said in a statement to ABC News.
“We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail,” Wiley added.
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Dylan Byers, CNN
Dylan Byers Sara Murray and Kevin Liptak, CNN
Dylan Byers, CNN
Z. Byron Wolf, CNN