Since news of the latest scandal involving Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his alleged bribery and misuse of office broke nearly two weeks ago, there has been rapid-fire development of details, a lot of which have been obscured by other matters dominating our attention right now such as the ongoing pandemic, the Supreme Court nomination proceedings and the start of voting for the Nov. 3 election. Here, we try to lay out the basic facts for you.
Wait, Did You Say the Latest Scandal?
Paxton won the office of attorney general in 2014 despite already being involved in a major criminal scandal. In April 2014, the Texas Tribune obtained documents showing that Paxton was soliciting clients while not being registered with the state board. He paid the ensuing $1,000 fine, but it was just the tip of a series of investigations into Paxton’s behavior.
In 2015, Paxton was indicted in Collin County after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged he had recruited investors while hiding that he was being compensated to promote the company’s stock. Paxton pleaded not guilty, and the federal case was eventually dismissed.
However, state charges for the same crime are still active. Though a May 2017 trial date was set, disputes over the pay of the special prosecutors have kept the case in limbo while Paxton is continuously accused of using money from wealthy donors to fund his defense. Despite the ongoing trial drama, Paxton was reelected in 2018.
What Are the Basics of this Scandal?
The letter signed by one former and six current high-ranking Paxton lieutenants that started the latest scandal did not contain details about what bribery or fraud the AG is accused of. The signers only mentioned knowledge of potential offenses. The charges, if any, would come after a subsequent investigation. The signers included first assistant attorney general Jeff Mateer, his deputy Ryan Bangert, and five other aides.
The charges are believed to be related to Austin real estate investor Nate Paul. Paul is a major Paxton campaign donor, who was raided by the FBI last year. Hearst newspapers obtained a text message sent by Mateer to Paxton that read:
“Each of the individuals on this text chain made a good faith report of violations by you to an appropriate law enforcement authority concerning your relationship and activities with Nate Paul.”
Paxton responded that he was out of the office. As of now, details regarding Paul’s possible crimes or their connection to the attorney general have not come forward. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing and called the accusations political.
How Did the Travis County District Attorney Get Involved?
Paul was upset about his treatment by the FBI and law enforcement, which raided his home and business last year. There has been nothing revealed to indicate what they were looking for, but Paul was mad enough that he wanted an investigation of what went down. He and Paxton turned to Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, who declined and referred the matter to Paxton. Since the scandal broke, Moore has distanced herself from Paxton and Paul, announcing that her office would have no further involvement in the matter.
Following the meeting in which Moore declined the request for an investigation, Paxton opened a special investigation of his own into the actions of the law enforcement involved in the raids of Paul’s properties. The fact that he was willing to pay a special prosecutor $300/hour to handle it while still claiming that the same rate for special prosecutors investigating his own state criminal case was exorbitant is an irony lawyers recently brought up in court. The controversial special investigation into Paul’s complaint of mistreatment has since been closed.
How Did Paul’s Case Lead to Accusations Against Paxton?
The actions of the special counsel, Houston prosecutor Brandon Cammack, are what led to the accusations in the aides’ letter. Cammack apparently targeted Paul’s adversaries with subpoenas, an act that aides felt was a misuse of Paxton’s official power. In an email obtained by the Texas Tribune, the aides stated:
“It would be a violation of our own public responsibilities and ethical obligations to stand by while the significant power and resources of the Texas Attorney General’s Office are used to serve the interests of a private citizen bent on impeding a federal investigation into his own alleged wrongdoing and advancing his own financial interests. We urge you to end this course of conduct immediately.”
The email was sent by Bangert, Blake Brickman, Lacey Mase, Darren McCarty and Ryan Vassar to Paxton and his new first assistant attorney general Brent Webster.
New First Assistant?
Mateer resigned shortly after he made his accusations. Actions taken by Paxton indicate he may be in the process of trying to silence his accusers.
Paxton said he was already planning on putting Mateer on administrative leave before the first assistant resigned. Two other accusers, David Maxwell, director of law enforcement, and Mark Penley, deputy AG for criminal justice, have also been placed on leave. Paxton continues to claim that the accusers were trying to impede his investigation into the law enforcement agencies involved in the Paul raid and that their claims are baseless.
“It seems like my office did everything possible to stop an investigation of some law enforcement agencies,” Paxton told the Southeast Texas Record. “I can only come to the conclusion that there was an effort to cover up the reality of what really happened. This wasn’t supposed to be a complicated investigation.”
Where Are We Now?
As of right now, Paxton has said he has no plans to resign. The Texas Department of Public Safety has stated that the allegations have been forwarded to the FBI, and that the Texas Rangers are not currently part of the case, though they will stand by to aid if requested. Gov. Greg Abbot has been noticeably quiet regarding a man considered to be one of his prime political lieutenants. He told KXAN that the matter raises “serious concerns,” but would not comment further on an open investigation. The FBI has also declined to release any further details.
If Paxton’s long history with his previous criminal scandals is any indication, full answers about his conduct will be a long time coming. On the other hand, his next election is two years away, which leaves plenty of time for information about the charges to come to light before voters can take another look at him. Stay tuned for more on this confusing case as it arises.