GOP Sen. Paul Bettencourt recently filed a bill to give the Attorney General’s office the power to prosecute abuse of office charges without having to get consent from local prosecutors. Taking away that protection could open the doors to a politically motivated attorney general (good thing Texas doesn’t have one of those) a lot more power to prosecute.
The story, first reported by the Houston Chronicle, seems ironic, considering the FBI is currently investigating Paxton’s office for precisely the same crime—abuse of office. Eight former employees of Mr. Paxton have accused him of intervening several times in legal matters involving Nate Paul, a real estate investor, and friend who donated $25,000 to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.
Paxton claims he’s innocent of all charges, and called the whistle blowers’ allegations “overblown, based upon assumptions, and to a large degree misrepresent the facts.”
The new bill is allegedly inspired by a completely unrelated incident that the Harris County District Attorney’s office is investigating, where Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis stored privately owned pieces of artwork for free at a county warehouse for three years.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on that facility. This problem has now dragged on well over a year and a half publicly,” said Sen. Bettencourt at the hearing. “While there may or may not be any other activity in Harris County about it, I believe that it’s essential to restore the public trust by passing a bill in the Legislature.”
The bill is problematic, to say the least, even if Texas had an AG not being investigated by the FBI. This sort of bill would raise some eyebrows simply because it gives too much-unrestrained power to one single person.
“My concern is — it’s obvious in this case, probably somebody should do something — but in our history, in our state’s history, occasionally we get some renegade attorney generals who if they really didn’t like you could harass the individual official,” said Sen. Robert Nichols.
It’s worth noting that Paxton’s wife, Angela Paxton is part of the committee that will approve or repeal the bill. She hasn’t said a word but some are wondering if she’ll recuse herself from passing legislation that could benefit her husband.