AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s legal team made what they called “a major announcement” Thursday morning during a conference call: saying an affidavit proves an investigation into the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, did not target the governor. Two years ago, CPRIT became the focus of a financial probe involving Perry’s donors.
Because the Public Integrity Unit led that investigation, allegations have swirled that Perry’s veto of funding for the PIU was actually driven by a desire to squash the CPRIT investigation – rather than motivated by his lack of confidence in DWI-convicted Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. The PIU is run out of her office.
“The CPRIT issue the democrats are trying to peddle is a red herring and a phony issue,” said Perry attorney Benjamin Ginsberg who went on to say the indictment against the Governor falls apart without the “unsubstantiated rumor.”
Perry’s attorneys say that the affidavit given to them on Wednesday by the primary investigator in that case, Chris Walling, proves otherwise. Walling said that no evidence in the CPRIT case suggested wrongdoing by the governor.
Still, Progress Texas says it is not convinced that this is a significant development, “The Public Integrity Unit stated that its CPRIT investigation was slowed when Gov. Perry took away its funding. This is yet another example of a high-priced legal team coming up with a cheap diversionary tactic from the real issue at hand.” Edward Espinoza, the executive director of Progress Texas, said the statement from Walling missed the point.
“The question was never if Perry was involved, it was about Perry protecting his donors,” said Espinoza who called CPRIT a scandal-plagued agency that gave millions of dollars to organizations who then donated to the Governor.
Walling says there was no evidence that suggested wrongdoing by anyone other than Jerry Cobbs, the high-ranking CPRIT official who was indicted last December. Prosecutors criminally indicted the top state executive on charges related to $11 million in taxpayer funds that CPRIT awarded to a private company without review. CPRIT is just now emerging from that criminal investigation and national embarrassment over questionable spending.
Meanwhile, some Republicans say the indictments against the governor are directly related to a PIU investigation led by a DA’s office run by Democrats – the same office that prosecuted former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, also a Republican.
Background on CPRIT investigation
- In 2007, Texas voters approved the creation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT.
- It was supposed to finance $3 billion in cancer prevention, research and commercialization projects over 10 years.
- Since 2010, the agency has awarded nearly 500 grants totaling $836 million and screened nearly 300,000 Texans for cancer.
- But in 2012, state leaders placed a moratorium on grants, amid allegations of corruption.
- Lawmakers tentatively restored the institute’s $595 million operational budget in the last legislative session, after passing provisions to restructure the agency’s grant processes, improve oversight and prevent conflicts of interest.
- Then, prosecutors last December criminally indicted a top state executive on charges related to $11 million in taxpayer funds that CPRIT awarded to a private company without review.
- The agency is only now emerging from that criminal investigation and national embarrassment over questionable spending.