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Rick Perry claims indictment part of larger ‘rule of law’ problem

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Updated at 4:39 p.m.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) insisted Sunday that a grand jury indictment alleging he abused his office and tried to coerce an elected official was unjustified, pointing to support he has received from political leaders to bolster his claim.

In his first national television interview since the indictment was announced Friday, Perry defended his decision to veto funding for a state anti-corruption unit after a district attorney refused to resign even as he publicly asked her to do so. He also claimed the indictment was part of a larger "rule of law" problem in government.

"I stood up for the rule of law in the state of Texas, and if I had to do it again, I would make exactly the same decision," Perry said on "Fox News Sunday."

At issue is Perry's decision to veto $7.5 million in funding for an anti-corruption unit that is part of the Travis County district attorney's office. Perry wanted Rosemary Lehmberg (D), the district attorney for Travis County, to step down after her April 2013 drunken-driving arrest. She declined, and Perry made good on his threat to withhold the money. A watchdog group filed an ethics complaint that led to Perry's indictment on two felony counts.

Some prominent Republicans, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, have weighed in on Perry's behalf, arguing that Perry acted within his powers and the that indictment was unwarranted. Even David Axelrod, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to President Obama , suggested the claims against the governor appear flimsy.

Perry said the input supports his claim the he is innocent.

"I think across the board you’re seeing people weigh in and reflecting that this is way outside of the norm," he said.

In a Saturday statement, Cruz said, "Unfortunately, there has been a sad history of the Travis County District Attorney's Office engaging in politically-motivated prosecutions, and this latest indictment of the governor is extremely questionable." The Travis County's district attorney's office has taken on other prominent Republicans in cases that later fell apart.

Axelrod, a former top aide to President Obama, tweeted Saturday that, "Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy."

Perry said in his "Fox News Sunday" interview that his indictment is part of a larger problem of government agencies acting outside the law.

"When you add the IRS scandal that's going on and the outside of the rule of law there, and then you look at what's happened in Austin, Texas, with this grand jury, I think there is some extraordinary concern in this country about the rule of law not being followed," he said.

The governor also accused his opponents of trying to settle a political score.

"This is not the way we settle political differences in this country," he said. "You don't do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box."

In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," Craig McDonald, the director of Texans for Public Justice, the group that filed the ethics complaint, said Perry's argument that he was acting within his rights when he issued his veto misses the mark.

"We have said all along it's not about the veto," McDonald said. "We believe he had the right to veto it. It was his decision to veto it. It was about the intimidation before the veto. It was about him using the veto to as a coercion tactic to get [Lehmberg] to do something she didn't want to do."

Perry's indictment comes as he is wrapping up the final few months of his tenure as the state's longest-serving governor, with his eye on a next political act. He's been traveling through the early presidential nominating states, openly considering the idea of running for president again. Perry ran for president in 2012, folding his campaign after a short-lived bid for the Republican nomination.

Asked about his presidential ambitions Sunday, Perry said his focus is first on helping Republicans in the fall midterm elections.

"Between now and November the 4th is what I’m focused on -- 2016 will take care of itself," he said.