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Texas Governor Perry enters 'not guilty' plea to felony charges: newspaper

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[August 21, 2014]  AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry, a possible Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential race, has entered a not guilty plea to two felony counts of abuse of power, according to a legal document posted on Wednesday by a newspaper.

Perry also waived his right to an arraignment scheduled for Friday, according to the document, which was filed with the District Court of Travis County and signed by one member of Perry's legal team and was posted by the Houston Chronicle.

Neither Perry's office nor his legal team were immediately available for comment.

Perry was indicted on Friday by a grand jury in Travis County, a Democratic stronghold in heavily Republican Texas, over his veto of funding for a state ethics watchdog that has investigated prominent Texas Republicans. He was charged with abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony, and coercion of a public official, a third-degree felony.

Perry, who was fingerprinted and photographed on Monday, has called the charges "outrageous" and politically motivated. He faces up to 109 years in jail if convicted on both charges.

Perry, the longest-serving governor in the state's history, became the target of an ethics investigation last year after he vetoed $7.5 million in funding for the state public integrity unit run from the Travis County district attorney's office.

Perry's veto was widely viewed as intended to force the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after she had pleaded guilty to drunken driving.

Opponents have said Perry may have been looking to put an ally in charge of the unit, extending what they say is cronyism in his administration.

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Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor who put together the case that was presented to the grand jury, served as a prosecutor in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, a Republican.

Perry dropped out of a gaffe-filled campaign for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination but has been attempting a political comeback. He gained national attention this summer for accusing President Barack Obama of doing too little to secure the U.S.-Mexico border.

He will step down as governor when his term ends early next year.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott)

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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