Straus to Whistleblower: Resign or be Indicted
In a stunning revelation of potentially illegal influence peddling, House Speaker Joe Straus promised that an indictment effort and other actions against whistleblowing UT Regent Wallace Hall Jr. could be stopped if Hall just resigned office and dropped his investigation into financial malfeasance and legislative clout abuse.
Hall was the subject of an impeachment investigation launched by Straus and his allies after Hall discovered instances of lawmakers using their influence to get otherwise under-qualified, though politically connected, adults admitted to the University of Texas’ academic programs. Hall also uncovered financial malfeasance at the state’s flagship institution. As a result, UT President Bill Powers – a politically liberal academic close to Straus and former US Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison – has been forced to resign.
Of his investigations into malfeasance and corruption in higher education, Hall said the establishment did everything they could to block his efforts.
“Here is what I encountered from the beginning: opacity at every turn. Annoyance with every question. Delay and obfuscation with every answer, when I received answers at all,” said Hall.
In accepting the Torch of Freedom Award last weekend, Hall recounted for the first time in public how Straus promised the indictment proceedings and other pressure against Hall would end if the regent would just resign.
Previously, Hall recalled, Speaker Straus had said, “I do not care if Wallace Hall swings from a tree.”
“Speaker Straus offered the governor a deal,” said Hall. “He would make all this pressure go away if I would simply resign.”
Hall refused, with Perry’s backing, and the Straus committee voted to ask the disgraced Democrat district attorney of Travis County, Rosemary Lehmberg, to indict him.
In a video message accompanying the award, Gov. Perry praised Hall for having “never shied from turning a light into any area that needed it, receiving more than his share of pushback from those who endlessly defend the status quo.”
“Wallace has taken all they dished out and still is standing up for what is right,” added Perry.
Hall promised he would not back down, no matter what comes next.
“No amount of pressure from politicians in Austin will change me,” said Hall. “Nor will it change my obligations to the citizens of Texas whose interests I am empowered to protect.”
Hall praised Gov. Perry for having “stood up to withering attacks so that an unpaid volunteer could carry out his oath of office to all Texans.”
Empower Texans’ general counsel, Tony McDonald, said there is no legal avenue or legitimate process by which the Speaker of the Texas House can intervene in the grand jury and indictment process. McDonald said Straus’ pressure could indicate illegal and unethical coordination between the Speaker and the Travis County D.A.
In efforts to withdraw state funding from Lehmberg’s office after her violent and vitriolic arrest for drunk driving in 2013, it was establishment Republican Joe Straus’ lieutenants – including Charlie Geren of Fort Worth – who rushed to defend her.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is currently under indictment for exercising his constitutional line-item veto over state funds going to Lehmberg’s office. Similarly, Hall is now facing criminal indictment for exercising his constitutional duties as a regent.
Previously, the Straus empaneled committee was seeking to impeach Hall because he was asking too many questions of the state university he has a constitutional obligation to oversee.
In his remarks, Hall also revealed that unnamed members of the Texas Legislature “sent texts into the regents’ boardroom during sensitive discussions about the employment of key personnel they wanted to protect.”
The full video of Hall’s speech can be viewed on the Empower Texans YouTube channel: