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Major Democratic operative joins Rick Perry legal team

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rick Perry has added Mark Fabiani to his high-powered legal team
  • Fabiani has deep ties to the Democratic Party, including the Clintons and Al Gore
  • Perry's lawyers filed papers requesting his indictment be dropped

(CNN) -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry added another high-powered lawyer to his team fighting a felony indictment against him, but this addition is just as much about sending a message than winning the case.

Mark Fabiani has deep ties to the Democratic Party and is best known for his legal and crisis communication expertise.

He guided President Bill Clinton in his White House years and also ran Al Gore's communications team during his presidential run in 2000.

As Fabiani signed on, Perry's defense filed papers in Travis County District Court requesting the indictment be dismissed, arguing the charges are based on "unconstitutional" statute.

Perry, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has been charged with coercion of a public servant and abuse of his official capacity.

They involve his threat last year to veto funding for a program run by the district attorney in Austin, Rosemary Lehmberg. The Travis County Democrat had been charged with drunken driving and refused to resign.

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While Fabiani's ability to navigate crisis communications will be useful to the Republican politician, Perry's reputation is on the line as he is simultaneously laying the foundation for a possible second White House bid.

Perry's team approached Fabiani about working on the case, and he accepted because "this case raises very significant First Amendment issues," he told CNN.

His hire is another attempt to show that even Democrats think the charges against Perry are ridiculous.

"I'm proud to join Governor Perry's outstanding team which has been assembled to fight back against this attack on the rule of law," Fabiani said in a statement. "I am confident this prosecution will be revealed to be contrary to the law and wholly meritless."

Fabiani joined the who's who list of political legal defense.

The Harvard-educated lawyer will be on the same team as Ben Ginsberg, a sharp departure from 14 years ago when the two were on opposite sides of the Florida presidential recount that sent George W. Bush to the White House. Ginsberg worked for Bush, and Fabiani for Gore, then the vice president.

Leading Perry's defense is Tony Buzbee, a Texas trial lawyer whose bio is 25 paragraphs long and includes media references like this one: "The New York Times stated it best when it described Buzbee like this: 'Mr. Buzbee is a big, mean, ambitious, tenacious, fire-breathing Texas trial lawyer. Really big. Poster boy big.'"

Perry has said he acted lawfully and indicated the charges were political.

"I refer to Travis County as the blueberry in the tomato soup if you know what I mean," Perry said in New Hampshire Friday, referring to the liberal-leaning political views in the Austin area, compared to other parts of the reliably red state.

A confident Rick Perry hits the road after indictment

CNN's Kevin Bohn and Ashley Killough contributed to this report

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