Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is exploring a run for president in 2016, heaped praise on a potential rival on Thursday, blasting the criminal prosecution against Republican Rick Perry and saying he did an “excellent job” as Texas governor.
“Perry did nothing that rises to the level of criminal activity,” Huckabee said outside BookPeople in Austin, where he was promoting a new book. “I was appalled that they brought a charge like that.”
“It’s an utterly ridiculous and frivolous charge,” Huckabee added. “If what Perry did is criminal, there is not a governor in America that can avoid an indictment and jail time. It’s really, really an unfortunate, malicious prosecution.”
Perry was indicted in August on charges related to his threat to veto funds slated for the state's public integrity unit unless Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who had been arrested for drunken driving, resigned. The public integrity unit, which oversees public corruption investigations, is housed in the Travis County DA's office.
Perry calls the prosecution outrageous and unconstitutional and is waging appeals that are working their way through the courts.
Huckabee’s comments come as both men test the presidential waters. Even as his prosecution moves forward, Perry has maintained a packed schedule of travel to the states holding early contests in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Huckabee, meanwhile, recently quit his weekly news show on Fox News to explore another run for the White House.
The Arkansas native hasn’t always been so eager to help out the swaggering Texas Republican. The bad blood between the two former southern governors spilled out into the open in 2011 when Perry was gearing up to run for president. Reacting to reports of his suspected entry into the race, Huckabee sent out an email reminding voters whom the Texas Republican had endorsed in 2008.
“For all his newfound commitment to hyper-conservatism, he’ll get to explain why he supported pro-abortion, pro-same sex marriage Rudy Giuliani last time,” Huckabee wrote in the email, according to Politico.
After the former New York mayor flopped, Perry threw his support behind John McCain and urged Huckabee to drop out so the Arizona senator could have a clear path to the nomination. Huckabee refused.
In Austin on Thursday, after signing copies of his new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, Huckabee confessed that he was still puzzled by Perry’s 2008 embrace of a liberal Republican — but said that's behind them now.
“I would love to have had his support, and I thought I would have it and I didn’t understand his support for Giuliani, but you know, Rick and I are friends,” he said. “We were in Afghanistan and Iraq together on a trip to see our troops and and, you know, he’s done an excellent job as governor. ”
“I hope he drops out of the presidential race,” Huckabee added in a joking tone. “But I hope this charge gets dismissed because, presidential politics aside, what is being done to him is just simply untenable.”
Reporter Terri Langford contributed to this story.