AUSTIN, Texas — When Breitbart Texas reported last week that University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall, Jr. had accused Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) of attempting to influence Governor Rick Perry to ask for Hall’s resignation, Straus’ office denied it, but Perry’s Chief of Staff Kathy Walt has now confirmed that Hall’s claims are true.
As Breitbart Texas reported, Hall delivered a speech at the Empower Texans’ Conservative Leaders Gala earlier this month in which he said that Straus had tried to force him to resign from the UT Board of Regents. Straus’ communications director, Jason Embry had vehemently denied Hall’s claim, providing a statement to Breitbart Texas that the Speaker had “never made an offer to Governor Perry about anything,” and attacking what he referred to as the “desperate screeds” of a person that is presumably Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan. [Disclosure: Empower Texans President Michael Quinn Sullivan is a Breitbart Texas contributor.] However, in an exclusive interview with Breitbart Texas, Walt has confirmed that Hall was indeed telling the truth.
This controversy began shortly after Perry appointed Hall to the UT Board of Regents in February 2011. Hall began asking questions about apparent financial improprieties and favoritism in the admissions process at UT for children and friends of politically powerful people, as Breitbart Texas has reported. Hall faced intense resistance from the UT administration and other members of the Board of Regents and continued delays and obstructions in all of his investigative efforts and requests for information. He also faced accusations that he was abusing his position as Regent, threats of criminal investigations and lawsuits, and personal attacks and threats of retribution against him in the media from UT officials, alumni, and lawmakers who were suspected of being involved.
Despite the strong resistance from the UT administration and their continuous insistence that Hall’s inquiries had no merit, investigations by Watchdog Texas and other groups have repeatedly proven Hall to be correct. UT President Bill Powers submitted his resignation, to be effective in July 2015, after an ultimatum from UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.
Nevertheless, in August, the Texas House of Representatives Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, a committee hand-selected by Straus, voted 6-1 to approve a “motion of admonishment and censure” against Hall for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office.” This was the first time such an action had ever been taken against a sitting Regent, and the Committee still retains the power to consider impeaching him in the future. The matter was also referred to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office for a criminal investigation into Hall, although there has not yet been any indication whether or not any criminal charges will actually be brought against him.
The key accusation Hall made in his speech comes at the 7:00 minute mark of this video. “Speaker Straus offered the governor a deal,” said Hall. “He would make all this pressure go away if I would simply resign.”
In an interview with Breitbart Texas, Walt, who has served as Perry’s Chief of Staff since 2013, said that a few days before the Committee voted on the motion to censure Hall, she received a phone call from Jesse Ancira, Straus’ Chief of Staff. Ancira told Walt that if Perry could convince Hall to resign from the Board of Regents, then “this whole thing would go away.”
Walt also told Breitbart Texas that Perry continued to stand by Hall and shared some more background about the Governor’s philosophy on oversight agencies like university boards of regents. Citing the past scandal at Texas Southern University, where the university president was indicted after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of school funds on personal items, Walt said that Perry wants to “make sure that the people that he appoints [to these boards] are able to provide the oversight needed to address issues before they become major problems.”
“These oversight boards are there for a reason,” Walt continued. “They are not there to socialize, but to do an important job.”
The Austin American-Statesman reported early Wednesday morning that Embry had once again denied that Straus had sought to get Perry to ask for Hall’s resignation. “Her story is untrue. No offer was made,” Embry said.
Breitbart Texas has been unable to confirm or deny if Perry and Straus ever spoke directly on this matter. However, the idea that Ancira, an experienced staffer who has been with Straus’ office since 2009, would consider calling Perry’s office to make such a request — asking the Governor to demand the resignation of one of his appointees — without the knowledge and permission of his boss strains credibility. Likewise, because of the politically sensitive nature of this story, we believe it is highly unlikely that Walt would be willing to speak publicly, on the record, if she were not telling the truth.
It is also important to note that Hall made these remarks from prepared notes in a public speech in front of approximately 350 people. Breitbart Texas has confirmed that Hall was able to see the video camera from his podium and would have been aware that he was being videotaped. Because of the seriousness of the threats and investigations against him, Hall has been forced to retain legal counsel, and told Breitbart Texas that he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money on legal fees so far. The reasonable presumption is that Hall consulted his attorneys to help craft his speech. Considering the fact that a Travis County grand jury could still indict him some day soon, it is highly unlikely that the prudent and deliberate Hall, not to mention his legal advisers, would consider making the accusation in a public, videotaped speech, unless it was the truth.
Perhaps most significant of all is the fact that at every step in this saga, whenever Hall has asked questions or voiced suspicions, he has been met with loud, angry denials from UT officials and the legislators who were involved, but time and time again, the facts have supported Hall.