Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has had plenty to say this week, but none of it has been about allegations of corruption against him or the disclosure of an alleged extramarital affair that could be at the center of his latest scandal.
Instead, he issued a statement on Tuesday supporting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a move that would strip health care coverage from more than 20 million Americans. Paxton did not argue the case before the U.S. Supreme Court even though he is leading a coalition of Republican states and the Trump administration in pushing for President Barack Obama’s signature health care law to be declared unconstitutional and abolished.
“It is plainly unlawful for the federal government to order private citizens to purchase subpar insurance that they don’t want,” Paxton said in a statement. “Under Obamacare, Texans faced higher costs, fewer choices and a power imbalance between the people and their government.”
Paxton then issued another statement the same day, announcing he had joined a coalition of 10 state attorneys general in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme regarding legality of late arriving mail-in ballots. Those ballots are part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to reverse election results in Pennsylvania.
“A free, fair and secure democratic process in the foundation of this great country,” Paxton stated. “Allowing questionable ballots to be counted several days after Election Day, even without a postmark to show that they were mailed by Election Day, undermines the integrity of that process.”
While Paxton was going about business as usual, intrigue about the alleged criminal scandal and affair continued to grow.
The allegations against Paxton come from reports made by seven of his aides to law enforcement officials, suggesting that their boss committed bribery and abused the AG’s office to assist a political donor.
All seven have resigned or were fired since the story broke. Six of the whistleblowers allege they were retaliated against after reporting Paxton’s actions.
The bombshell revelation in the scandal was that the political donor, Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer, acknowledged that he hired the woman who allegedly engaged in the affair with Paxton. Paul said he believed Paxton recommended the woman for a job at his firm, according to a deposition obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
Paul said in the deposition that he could not remember whether Paxton recommended the woman for a job as a project manager before or after she inquired about it. He also said he was unaware of the nature of the relationship between Paxton and the woman and denied that he hired her as a favor to Paxton.
It is unclear how close Paul and Paxton were, but Paul donated $25,000 to Paxton’s reelection campaign in 2018, and Paxton intervened several times in legal matters involving his office that involved or benefitted Paul, the newspaper reported.
The matter that raised red flags among Paxton’s staffers was the attorney general’s decision to bring in an outside lawyer into the state office to investigate Paul’s complaint, in which he alleged that he was targeted by law enforcement officials, who searched his home and offices last year.
While this isn’t Paxton’s first brush with allegations of criminal activity while in office, disclosure of the alleged affair could impact political support within his conservative Christian base.
The affair was not a secret to everyone. The Associated Press reported that he told a few campaign staffers about it in 2018 over concern that it would leak out before the election. He also told the group he ended the affair and was committed to his marriage with his wife, State Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney).
Revelations of marital infidelity have rocked the reputations and destroyed the careers of high-profile political leaders over the years, including Democrats Gary Hart and John Edwards, both senators and presidential candidates, former President Bill Clinton and Trump.
“The research on scandals shows that politicians can survive financial and personal scandals, but it is much harder to survive political scandals,” said Brandon J. Rottinghaus, University of Houston political science professor. “Scandals are less harmful among a politician’s base but excite opposition.”
The new criminal allegations against Paxton heap on top of felony securities fraud charges leveled against him in 2015, a year after he was first elected attorney general. Accusers State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) and a Florida businessman alleged that Paxton engineered a scheme to persuade friends to invest in a McKinney technology company without disclosing that he received 100,000 shares of stock.
He faces two first-degree felony charges and a third-degree felony charge and could be sentenced to up to 99 years in prison if convicted of the first-degree felonies.
Paxton pleaded not guilty to all the charges but has yet to stand trial. The case has dragged on due to changes of venues and successful maneuvering by his attorneys.
Some Republican allies have expressed concern about Paxton’s future political capital.
Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University, observed, “Paxton is a growing embarrassment to the Republican leadership in the state.”
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said he would reserve judgment but noted, “It is pretty dramatic when his senior staff walk out and basically file a complaint against him. That’s really unprecedented.
“I’ve been troubled from the beginning, from his first indictment that hasn’t been resolved in five years. I think that is a bad thing for the office, and I wish he would’ve gotten that resolved one way or another earlier,” Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general, said last month in an interview with Austin TV station KXAN.
Paxton has indicated that he intends to seek re-election in 2022, but he has already drawn a challenge from Democrat Joe Jaworski, an attorney and former mayor of Galveston. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, grandson of former President George H.W. Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, has also hinted that he is mulling a possible run.
“He’s been able to hide on ethics issues, flying below the radar since he wasn’t well enough known and the office is relatively obscure enough to raise any serious concern for most people,” Rottinghaus said of Paxton. “The latest allegations are sure to be a political arrow in his side.”