Perry gauged replacements before veto of funding

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Republican Gov. Rick Perry reached out to a Democratic lawyer about replacing the Travis County district attorney after her arrest for drunken driving, showing he still hoped the prosecutor would resign before he followed through on his threat to veto funding for the anti-corruption unit her office oversees.

The Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV reported Monday that Perry called attorney Mindy Montford in June 2013 to see if she would accept an appointment to replace Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat whose office oversees the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, which investigates statewide corruption.

Perry threatened to veto funding for the unit after Lehmberg's arrest and conviction last year for drunken driving unless she resigned. Lehmberg refused to leave her post and Perry eventually vetoed the money.

A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry on two felony counts related to that threat. The governor has dismissed the case against him as a political ploy, saying he was within his rights to veto the money and noting that the grand jury was seated in Austin, a heavily Democratic city.

By threatening the veto before actually carrying it out, Perry drew an ethics complaint from a left-leaning government watchdog group based in Austin, which sparked the case against him.

Word that Perry personally called Montford isn't likely to impact to current charges he faces. Still, it suggests that not only was Perry looking to replace Lehmberg with a Democrat, but that the governor was still actively working behind the scenes, believing that she would step aside even without his issuing a veto.

Montford said her June 2013 conversation with Perry was "the first I had heard about the public integrity veto idea." She said Perry personally called her cell phone, a sign of his involvement in trying to replace Lehmberg.

Montford said Perry told her that he planned to veto the money and that the district attorney's position might come open. State law gives the governor the power to pick replacement district attorneys, though the local Democratic state senator in Austin could have rejected Perry's appointment using senatorial privilege.

"There was no acceptance because I didn't feel like it was timely at that point," Montford said Sunday. "We never spoke again because it became irrelevant when she did not resign."

Montford lost the district attorney's race to Lehmberg in 2008 and once worked in the Public Integrity Unit.

A Perry did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Perry is charged with coercion of a public servant and abuse of official capacity, two counts that carry the potential of decades in prison if he is convicted. Perry has remained defiant throughout the indictment process, and his lawyers are expected to soon ask a judge to dismiss the case against him.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman,

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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