WASHINGTON — Texas Gov. Rick Perry, fresh from his recent indictment on charges of abusing the powers of his office, told a conservative audience Thursday that the “porous” southern border provides an entry point for Islamic terrorists to strike in the United States.
“Certainly there is great concern that the border between the U.S. and Mexico is unsecure, and we don’t know who’s using that,” the Republican chief executive said at a panel discussion about immigration at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research center.
“I think there is a very real possibility that they have already used that,” he added, but offered no evidence.
Perry, who’s said to be weighing a second run at the White House after his disastrous, short-lived campaign in 2012, used his keynote speech at the panel to lambaste Democrats and slough off his recent felony charges in a politically charged Texas case that involves his office and a local district attorney.
The charges stem from his call for Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, to resign after she was convicted last year of drunk driving. When she didn’t, he vetoed a $7.5 million allocation for the public integrity unit of her office. A grand jury indicted him last week on charges of coercing a public servant and abusing his official capacity. He was booked this week and his unusual mug shot, a tight smile stretched across his face, became an Internet sensation.
His supporters have called the Perry probe a political witch hunt, and it’s served as a rallying point. Even some prominent Democrats have questioned the legal basis for going after the governor, who will have been the state’s longest-serving chief executive when he steps down next year and who’s studiously gone about revamping his swaggering, cowboy-booted image in preparation for a possible presidential run.
The discussion Thursday about the exploding immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border ranged from amnesty plans to the effects on the U.S economy. But even the panelists acknowledged the packed auditorium was probably more interested in Perry himself.
“Have you ever seen anyone look as relaxed and happy in their mugshot as Gov. Rick Perry?” panelist Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, a conservative political magazine, said before introducing the Texan.
Perry wasted little time before addressing the charges.
“There are a few public officials who have taken issue with an exercise of my constitutional veto authority,” he said. “I am very confident in my case and I can assure you that I will fight this attack of our system of government. . . . I aim to defend our Constitution and stand up for the rule of law in the state of Texas.”
He said the case was nothing more than political fodder, citing critical comments from David Axelrod, a former top political strategist to President Barack Obama, and Alan Dershowitz, a prominent liberal legal scholar.
“All say that this is sketchy, outrageous, totalitarian and McCarthyite. I agree with them,” Perry said. “And that’s just on the Democrat side of the aisle.”
The governor did eventually get to the panel’s main topic, though he used the immigration debate more as a vehicle to attack the White House than to lay out a clear border strategy. Noting that Obama declined his invitation last month to visit the Texas-Mexico border, he said, “To this day, the president has yet to see the facts on the ground at our southern border, even though they are a direct consequence of his policies.”