An investigation into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, had nothing to do with Gov. Rick Perry's veto of $7.5 million in funds earmarked for the public integrity unit of the Travis County district attorney's office, defense attorneys for the governor said Thursday.
"The CPRIT issue is important to the Democrats to try to say there was something there," Ben Ginsberg, one of Perry's attorneys, said in a conference call with reporters.
Ginsberg and defense attorney Tony Buzbee told reporters that Chris Walling, a former investigator for the Travis County district attorney's office who was part of the CPRIT investigation, contacted the governor's office and, through his lawyer, provided an affidavit to say no one from Perry's office was part of that probe.
"At no time in CPRIT investigation was Governor Rick Perry or anyone from the Governor's office a target," said Walling's affidavit, which was released by Perry's attorneys.
"Special prosecutor Michael McCrum contacted me to interview me about the CPRIT investigation," Walling's affidavit said. "During that interview, Mr. McCrum questioned me about Governor Rick Perry's potential involvement in the CPRIT situation. I made it clear to him that there was absolutely no evidence even suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Governor Perry and in no uncertain terms that, after a lengthy investigation, no evidence was found to suggest wrong doing on the part of the Governor, the Governor's office, nor any Board Member of CPRIT."
Perry's critics have suggested that his veto in 2013 of money for the public integrity unit was politically motivated by the CPRIT investigation and not the drunken driving arrest of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.
Perry called for Lehmberg to step down from office following her arrest. Her office oversees the public integrity unit.
Rudy Magallanes, a spokesman for the Travis County district attorney's office, said Walling was hired to work at the office in July 2008, left in November 2013 for a job in the private sector and is now employed by the Texas State Auditor's Office.
Glenn Smith, director of Progress Texas PAC, a liberal organization, said he believes Perry's veto was not just about the CPRIT scandal. He said it was an attempt to "illegally grab control" of the Travis County district attorney's office, which — because it can also investigate corruption statewide — poses a threat to elected officials.
"It would have allowed him to launch any investigation he wanted to launch and derail any investigation he wanted to derail," Smith said. "Perry had many motives."
Disclosure: Tony Buzbee was a major donor to The Texas Tribune in 2012. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.