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Texas Gov. Rick Perry highlights unlikely critics of his indictment

Texas Gov. Rick Perry continues to insist that he did not abuse his power by vetoing funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption, and is pointing to a few unexpected supporters who have suggested that the charges against him are politically motivated.

Perry was indicted Friday by a grand jury for publicly promising to veto $7.5 million for the public integrity unit in Travis County if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg - who pleased guilty to drunk driving in 2013 - did not step down.

"The public had lost confidence in her, and I did what every governor has done for decades, which is make a decision on whether or not it was in the proper use of state money to go to that agency, and I vetoed it. That's what the rule of law is really about," the governor said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday." "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 went on to note that former David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Obama, had called the indictment "pretty sketchy" on Twitter, and that Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, a self-proclaimed liberal Democrat, told a conservative website that "everybody, liberal or conservative, should stand against this indictment."

"I think across the board, you're seeing people weigh in and reflecting that this is way outside of the norm. This is not the way that we settle differences, political differences, in this country. You don't do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box," Perry said.

He also publicly thanked several other prominent Republicans and potential 2016 presidential candidates - Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz - for publicly backing him.

Some say that Perry could benefit from the appearance of a partisan attack coming from a Democratically-controlled district attorney's office.

"The part that's not usual or that's becoming uncomfortably usual is the criminalization of politics," said Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus in an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday. "We've seen this before in Texas and elsewhere with the indictments of Tom DeLay. I'm not a fan of Tom DeLay, but his indictment was wrong. I said it at the time. His conviction has since been overturned. The indictment of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, which was rejected. And now the indictment of Rick Perry."

The Dallas Morning News' Wayne Slater said on ABC's "This Week" that even some Democrats have privately told him they believe a conviction would be "a stretch."

"It's one thing to get a grand jury indictment against someone, it's another thing to get a conviction in a court of a sitting governor," Slater said. "In a case like this, where again the question is: Was he just engaged in hardball -- and not very pretty politics -- or did he do something that he shouldn't have been doing? And, again, people are divided."

But Craig McDonald, the director of Texas for Public Justice, said the facts don't support Perry's conclusion that he is the victim of a partisan smear.

"No politician in the prosecutor's office or the judicial system in Travis County has laid a hand on this. Our complaint went to the chief Republican judge, head of this judicial district, a Republican appointee of Governor Perry's. He turned it over and appointed a special judge, again, a Republican from San Antonio to oversee the matter. That Republican judge appointed a special prosecutor because he thought the case had that merit. That special prosecutor is a Republican as well who served under George W. Bush. No Democrat has had a finger on this. So, for the governor to say this is merely a partisan witch hunt just doesn't stand in the face of the facts," McDonald said on CNN's "State of the Union."

He says that it's not Perry's actual veto that is a problem, but rather the fact that he used the threat of a veto to try to coerce Lehmberg to step down from her position.

"We believe he had the right to veto it," McDonald said. "It was about the intimidation before the veto. It was about him using the veto as a coercion tactic to get her to do something she didn't want to do, which was quit her job."

The big question that remains for Perry is how the indictment - even if he is acquitted - could affect his chances for another run at the White House in 2016.

"I doubt it hurts Rick Perry a lot within the Republican Party to be in trouble for having gone after what the Republicans see as a Democratic prosecutor who is trying to put Republicans in jail," said the Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib on "Face the Nation." "It does create a huge distraction and it does get in the way of the process of getting out of the governor's office and moving onto a wide, smooth path toward the Republican nomination. And I don't think anybody doubts that's what Rick Perry has been setting out to do over the last few months."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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