Recently obtained text messages shed light on the escalating tension between lawmakers and Attorney General Ken Paxton, surrounding a $3.3 million settlement demand to sort out a lawsuit with a group of whistleblowers who’d accused Paxton of corruption and retaliation.
The messages obtained by The Dallas Morning News show a heated conversation between Texas Representative Jeff Leach and senior advisor to Paxton, Michelle Smith.
Rep. Leach, a staunch supporter of Paxton and a fellow Collin County Republican, found himself at odds with the Attorney General’s funding request. On February 10, Leach implored Smith to convince Paxton to publicly explain himself before the legislature, as many lawmakers, including conservative friends of Paxton, were furious at the idea of taxpayers footing the $3.3 million settlement bill.
“I don’t know a single legislator who believes taxpayers should be expected to be on the hook for this,” Leach said.
Smith, however, disagreed with Leach’s approach and urged him to handle the matter privately.
“What happened to, ‘I will work with him until the day I die?” she responded in the text thread. “If he’s a friend get the full story.”
“The Christian thing to do is to ask what’s going on in Private. If you don’t like the answer then do whatever public,” she added later in that conversation, according to the messages obtained by The Dallas Morning News.
Undeterred, Leach insisted on a public hearing and promised to confront Paxton directly on the matter.
The House ethics committee took action in response to the settlement funding request and began reviewing the whistleblowers’ allegations. By late May, the House voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton based on the committee’s findings, which suggested that he had abused his power to aid a campaign donor under FBI investigation.
The day of the House Impeachment, Leach stood at the microphone and said he’d invited the attorney general to appear before the committee he chairs. Paxton failed to attend any of the 12 meetings held that year.
Now, as the Senate trial looms on September 5, Paxton’s legal team announced that he will refuse to testify during the trial, claiming that the House denied him the opportunity to defend himself adequately.
The text exchanges between Leach and Smith marked the extent of the pressure placed on Paxton to defend the settlement funding publicly.
As the legislative session progressed, more lawmakers expressed concerns about the use of taxpayer money for the settlement. Even Speaker Dade Phelan spoke out against it, saying that funding the settlement was not a proper use of taxpayer money.
Throughout the turmoil, Smith continued her unwavering support for Paxton, engaging in social media posts rallying against the lawmakers who voted for his impeachment.
And by March 6, the messages between Leach and Smith became more intense.
“I won’t be talked out of doing my job and fulfilling my oath,” Leach told Smith, before asking her once more to get Paxton to appear before his committee.
“I stood in 100-degree weather to get you elected. Never forget that,” Smith replied. “You want to go against me go ahead.”
Smith later said she would have a discussion with Paxton and then get back to Leach. According to the public records released by The Dallas Morning News, this was the last time the two texted.
It remains uncertain whether Smith conveyed Leach’s messages to Paxton and when the Attorney General first learned about the looming impeachment. Paxton’s lawyers have vocally criticized the process, filing a motion stating that their client cannot be compelled to testify during the September trial.
As the Texan Attorney General’s impeachment saga unfolds, the state awaits a trial that could determine Paxton’s future in office.