A Tangled Tale of Perry's Texas Politics
AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Attorneys for Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday produced an affidavit from a former state investigator, in a bank-shot denial that Perry's line-item veto, which brought him a two-count felony indictment, was politically motivated.
In a conference call with reporters, one of Perry's attorneys, Ben Ginsberg, of Washington, D.C., denied allegations that Perry's line-item veto of Travis County's Public Integrity Unit was politically motivated.
Perry issued a line-item veto of a state Senate bill that earmarked $7 million for Travis County District Attorney Mary Lehmberg's Public Integrity Unit. The Republican governor acted after Lehmberg, a Democrat, was charged with drunken driving. Perry demanded that she resign, and she refused. She pleaded guilty in April 2013, and survived an attempt to remove her from her job.
But there's a lot more to the story, according to people who follow Texas politics.
Perry's critics claim that the governor wanted to shut down the Public Integrity Unit because it might turn up sweetheart deals with Perry's friends and campaign contributors, involving The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).
The investigation led to a top executive of CPRIT being indicted in December 2103, according to the Dallas Morning News. He was accused of skipping a review process for an $11 million grant to a company whose backers included Perry supporters.
CPRIT was formed in 2007 after Texas voters authorized the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund the cancer research and prevention program. Members of the board are all Perry appointees.
"This was a scandal-plagued agency that has already seen one of its officers receive a felony indictment for funneling millions to donors of Rick Perry and [Attorney General] Greg Abbott," Progress Texas Executive Director Ed Espinoza said.
Ginsberg on Thursday rejected that claim, calling it "a red herring."
Perry's legal team produced a 2-page affidavit signed by a former Travis County Public Integrity Unit investigator, who claimed that Perry was not a target of the CPRIT investigation.
Chris Walling said in the affidavit that he was the "primary investigator" in the CPRIT investigation.
"At no time in CPRIT investigation was Governor Rick Perry or anyone from the Governor's office a target," Walling says in the affidavit. "At no time did I ever obtain evidence that suggested any wrongdoing on behalf of Governor Rick Perry or the Governor's office."
Perry's indictment does not mention the CPRIT investigation.
"The CPRIT issue is a red herring that the Democrats are trying to make float upstream and it doesn't work," Ginsberg said in the conference call Thursday.
"This thin indictment really falls apart without them being able to float this unsubstantiated rumor."
Wallace states in the affidavit that he made told special prosecutor Michael McCrum that "there was absolutely no evidence even suggesting any wrongdoing on the part of Governor Perry" or any board member of CPRIT.
Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Will Hailer fired back Thursday, calling Perry's legal strategy "a game of smoke and mirrors."
"The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas was a marquee program for Governor Perry and he had all the political motivation in the world to protect this project and ensure that no further investigation would continue," Hailer said in a statement. "He appointed the original board members, including one who was indicted for abuse of funds that were distributed to Perry and Abbott donors."
Perry was indicted on Aug. 15 on two felony counts by a Travis County grand jury: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. He waived indictment, scheduled for today (Friday), and is in New Hampshire this weekend meeting with Republicans as he contemplates another run for the presidency.