A judge has decided not to issue an arrest warrant for Texas Governor Rick Perry, a court official said Monday, meaning the Republican can continue travelling the country and gearing up for a possible 2016 presidential run despite being indicted on two felony counts of abuse of power.
Perry, who has been defiant in insisting he did nothing wrong, had planned to go ahead with visits to battleground states that would be key to winning the Republican Party's presidential nomination.
For Perry, who stumbled when he sought the nomination in 2012, the allegations could pose a distraction and complicate his attempts to gain a second look from Republicans. The details of the prosecution and timing of any trial remain unknown, and it is unclear how Republican activists will respond to a presidential candidate who has been indicted.
On Friday, the Republican became the first Texas governor since 1917 to be indicted, and he's facing charges that carry a maximum sentence of 109 years in prison for carrying out a threat to veto funding for the state's public integrity unit. Linda Estrada, a grand jury clerk, said that the judge overseeing the case decided against issuing an arrest warrant.
Instead, Judge Bert Richardson said Perry will receive a summons to appear, which has not been issued yet. It won't be until Perry's defence attorney and the state set a date for him to appear in court.
Aides said Perry planned to maintain his public schedule, including a Thursday speech on immigration in Washington and visits to Japan and China.
Potential 2016 presidential rivals such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have denounced the indictment, and Republicans have said the facts of the case could prompt conservatives to rally behind Perry.
"Nobody wants to get indicted but the basis of the indictment is so preposterous that ultimately it could be a political benefit," said Phil Musser, a former executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
A grand jury indicted Perry for carrying out a threat to veto $7.5 million in funding to the state's ethics watchdog, led by a local district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, an elected Democrat, unless she resigned following her arrest and conviction for drunken driving.
A state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a complaint filed by a left-leaning watchdog group.
Perry has said the indictment is reflective of a larger problem of government agencies not following the rule of law and that some Democrats have questioned the wisdom of his indictment.
Democrats point out that the special prosecutor was appointed by a Republican judge, undercutting Perry's argument about partisanship.