A proud right-wing Christian soldier in the never-ending culture war, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton definitely isn’t shy about the political spotlight. The Tea Party warrior has been at the forefront of the Republican efforts to limit abortion, to dismantle Obamacare and to get rid of Obama’s DACA order to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as kids, which has earned him a devoted conservative fanbase that includes Republicans across the state as well as President Donald Trump.
But despite his efforts to paint himself as a righteous defender of justice, freedom and the American Way, Paxton sure seems to have a knack for getting accused of unethical behavior. Five years after being indicted for alleged securities fraud in a case that has yet to go to trial thanks to months of delay tactics, Paxton is currently in the middle of an even bigger scandal that’s led some of his closest allies to band together and declare mutiny against the state’s top law enforcement officer.
Paxton’s latest scandal is quite the doozy, and has led a handful of his top deputies — all fellow conservative Republicans, mind you — to blow the whistle against what they believe to be shady dealings from Paxton to help out Nate Paul, a big Paxton donor who is facing financial and criminal troubles of his own.
So far, all of the whistleblowers from Paxton’s office have either resigned in protest, or were fired or put on leave by the Office of the Attorney General. Several have sued Paxton for retaliating against them, and the Associated Press reported last week that the FBI is currently investigating Paxton over his latest bout of alleged wrongdoing.
The first embers of Paxton’s most recent scandal started burning in early October, when the Austin American-Statesman reported that seven of Paxton’s top deputies, including Paxton’s then first assistant Jeff Mateer, jointly sent a letter requesting an investigation of their boss to the OAG’s human resources director.
In that letter, they wrote that “We have a good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses," but didn’t elaborate on what specifically Paxton had allegedly done.
Over the following weeks, it became clear that what concerned Paxton’s former allies was his unusually cozy relationship with Paul, a 30-year-old Austin real estate investor who’d previously donated to Paxton’s first re-election campaign to the tune of $25,000 in 2018. Paul is facing investigation into alleged securities fraud, so it makes sense that he’d want to cozy-up to a powerful law enforcement official like Paxton, especially given Paxton’s checkered past.
The fraud charges Paxton is still staring down after all this time are based on his dealings for Servergy Inc., a technology startup who paid Paxton to help gin up new investment. Paxton pitched members of an investment club he was in on throwing their money into Servergy without disclosing that he was on the company payroll.
He pleaded not guilty, and for the last several years, Paxton’s Republican allies have been waging a long, drawn out battle that’s delayed a trial from being held, with multiple lawsuits over how much the state’s attorney’s should be paid to prosecute Paxton and whether or not the case should be heard in Collin County, just north of Paxton’s hometown Dallas where he has plenty of local allies, or in Harris County, where Paxton’s opponents think he'd get a fairer trial.
As details started to trickle out about Paxton’s dealings with Paul-related manners, things started looking pretty darn suspicious. One move that raised eyebrows within the OAG was Paxton’s decision to issue a non-legally binding opinion that property foreclosure sales should be postponed due to the pandemic. The move seemed to help out Paul, who due to his financial troubles had several properties about to hit the auction block. Even though it wasn’t legally binding, Paxton’s opinion still seemingly swayed some lenders who opted not to hold auctions for Paul’s properties.
Then, in early November, the Dallas Morning News reported that Paul also admitted in a deposition that he’d hired a woman who Paxton had been having an affair with for a job with his real estate company. Paxton hasn’t denied the affair: The AP recently reported that Paxton told a small group of his top staffers about being unfaithful to his wife while he was running for reelection in 2018. Paul said he believed that Paxton “did recommend her” for the job, but denied that hiring her was a favor for the attorney general.
But the most damning allegations about Paxton and Paul’s sketchy relationship have to do with an FBI raid of Paul’s home and business last year, which the AP reported may be tied to suspected securities fraud from Paul, which he's denied.
Paxton launched a probe into the FBI raid, but state investigators didn’t find any credible evidence for wrongdoing on the government’s part. Instead of calling up his buddy Paul and telling him the internal investigation turned up nada, Paxton then took the extraordinary move of hiring a private lawyer outside of his own agency to head up a new, separate investigation into the Paul raid in September.
That outside lawyer, a 34-year-old Houston attorney named Brandon Cammack, eagerly jumped on the case. He issued dozens of subpoenas in a desperate attempt to muster up any sort of evidence to prove Paul’s claims that he was being unfairly targeted, which were halted by one of the eventual whistleblowers against Paxton, deputy attorney general for criminal justice Mark Penley.
Even though the independent investigation was called off by Paxton after the whistleblower complaint became public, Paxton swore there was nothing fishy going on and said his employees who claimed otherwise couldn’t prove he was doing anything illegal.
“The Texas attorney general’s office was referred a case from Travis County regarding allegations of crimes relating to the FBI, other government agencies and individuals. My obligation as attorney general is to conduct an investigation upon such referral,” Paxton said in a statement last month.
“Because employees from my office impeded the investigation and because I knew Nate Paul I ultimately decided to hire an outside independent prosecutor to make his own independent determination. Despite the effort by rogue employees and their false allegations I will continue to seek justice in Texas and will not be resigning,” Paxton’s statement continued.
On November 12, four of the OAG employees who sounded the alarm about Paxton’s efforts to help his buddy Paul and were later placed on leave or fired from their jobs filed a lawsuit against Paxton in Travis County District Court, demanding financial damages for lost wages and emotional suffering in addition to getting their jobs back.
Even Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, Paxton’s former top deputy and a fellow Tea Partier, has called on his old boss to leave office.
“For the good of the people of Texas and the extraordinary public servants who serve at the Office of the Attorney General, Attorney General Ken Paxton must resign,” Roy said in a statement.
Paxton’s fellow Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick have both issued vague calls that the allegations against Paxton should be looked into, but neither of them have asked Paxton to step down.
Despite everything, Paxton seems intent to plow ahead toward running for a third term in 2022. In a statement to the Statesman last week, Paxton once again refused to admit he’d done anything wrong, and said his unusually hands-on efforts to intervene on his donor’s behalf are just the latest skirmishes in his lifelong, righteous battle against government overreach.
“I make no apologies for being a fierce investigator and defender of individual rights in the face of potentially unreasonable and authoritarian actions. Doing so is not favoritism. It is doing what the people of Texas expect from every law enforcement agency, their attorney general, and the staff of this office,” Paxton wrote.
The people of Texas might also expect that their state’s top law enforcement official would be better at keeping himself out of the headlines for alleged crimes, but it’s always amazing what people will overlook from self-serving politicians who pick the right partisan boogeymen to go after.
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