Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is no stranger to professional controversy. For the entire five years he has been in the office of Attorney General of Texas, he has been under the cloud of an indictment. Five years ago he was indicted on felony securities fraud charges. He has served as attorney general since January 2015. He was re-elected in 2018. Saturday the news began breaking of Paxton’s deputies have reported him to law enforcement authorities over concerns of bribery and abuse of office.
The first reports of the news were shared on social media Saturday evening. At that time nothing specifically was reported on why exactly the red flags were being raised by Paxton’s top deputies, who have been known to be very loyal to him. The story is slowly coming out and now it looks like it has to do with Paxton’s relationship and dealings with an Austin-based businessman under investigation for more than a year by the FBI. The businessman, Nate Paul, is the founder of World Class Holdings. He has a portfolio of high profile real estate holdings. Some properties he controls in Austin were the scene of FBI operations last year. Paul has been under investigation by the FBI since 2019.
BREAKING: Seven top aides, including his first assistant, have asked federal authorities to investigate Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for multiple crimes that include bribery and abuse of office, according to a letter obtained today by @statesman and @KVUE. pic.twitter.com/tb7diLqqdi
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) October 3, 2020
Paxton’s deputies sent him a text message alerting him of their actions. They wanted to meet with him but he texted back that the request was “on very short notice. I am happy as always to address any issues or concerns. Please email me with those issues so that they can be fully addressed.” It seems to me that the smart thing for him to do would have been to meet with them right away and address their concerns.
Before this story began breaking, Jeff Mateer, Paxton’s top assistant, announced he is leaving Paxton’s office to return to a prominent Plano-based conservative nonprofit law firm that is helping to nominate judges to federal courts.
The First Liberty Institute hired Mateer and Hannah Clayson Smith, an attorney at Schaerr Jaffe, to work on judicial selection and “defending religious liberty across America,” Executive General Counsel Hiram Sasser confirmed to The Dallas Morning News in a text message late Friday.
In the weeks before President Donald Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, The Wall Street Journal reported that First Liberty provided feedback to the president on his selections for the top court’s bench. First Liberty’s website counts nominating conservative judges to the federal bench among its top priorities.
Paxton hired Mateer away from First Liberty to be First Assistant Attorney General in 2016. He replaced now U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin. It’s unclear who will take place Mateer’s place under Paxton. Before joining Paxton’s agency, Mateer was well known for opposing LGBTQ rights and fighting for Christians who said their religious freedoms were being curtailed.
The deputies sent this letter to human resources at the attorney general’s office on Thursday.
Also interesting: This letter alleging criminal behavior by the Texas Attorney General *specifically* mentions his texts messages – those would all be discoverable under the Texas Public Information Act #txlege pic.twitter.com/7XeKXPRNyA
— Scott Braddock (@scottbraddock) October 4, 2020
Paxton’s office released a brief statement:
In a statement to the American-Statesman Paxton’s office said: “The complaint filed against Attorney General Paxton was done to impede an ongoing investigation into criminal wrongdoing by public officials including employees of this office. Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law.”
Governor Abbott says the accusations “raise serious concerns.” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick weighed in, too.
In a statement about the accusations, Abbott said: “These allegations raise serious concerns. I will withhold further comment until the results of any investigation are complete,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also briefly commented, saying “I learned about this from media reports. These issues are obviously concerning. I will wait until the investigation is complete before making any additional comments.”
This morning, Rep. Chip Roy called for Paxton to resign. Chip Roy’s connection to Paxton’s office is mentioned above. Mateer, who has announced his resignation, replaced Roy in Paxton’s office as Paxton’s top deputy. For Roy to call for Paxton’s resignation so quickly is an eyebrow-raising move.
— Evan Smith (@evanasmith) October 5, 2020
It is being reported that Paxton’s deputies are alarmed that he chose a lawyer outside his office to investigate allegations against Nate Paul. Apparently, this plays a part in the deputies lodging their charges against Paxton now.
Houston lawyer Brandon Cammack appeared before a Travis County grand jury on Sept. 28 as a special prosecutor representing Paxton’s office and obtained at least one subpoena to look into allegations made by Austin businessman Nate Paul accusing federal authorities of wrongdoing when they raided his home and offices, according to documents obtained by the Statesman.
After learning Cammack had participated in the court proceedings, a deputy of Paxton’s sent Cammack a cease-and-desist letter stating that he had no authority under state law to serve as a special prosecutor and that by doing so he might have committed a crime.
“You have not been retained, authorized, or deputized by this office as such and your actions are entirely inappropriate and may be illegal,” Deputy Attorney General Mark Penley wrote to Cammack Wednesday. The letter directed Cammack to stop taking any further actions.
In the letter, Penley said he had become aware that Cammack had served a subpoena on at least one private business earlier that day.
Whether Cammack’s actions broke any laws was immediately unclear, but Penley’s letter underscores that Paxton’s decision to appoint Cammack to investigate federal authorities without consulting his top staff caught aides by surprise and raised concerns among them about the attorney general’s relationship with Paul, who has been the subject of a federal investigation for the past 14 months.
The timing of all this stinks, that’s for sure. Texas is quickly approaching early voting for the November general election. The attorney general’s office has been involved in what seems to be non-stop litigation for the state as Republicans and Democrats have battled over the election process. Democrats have aggressively been attempting to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to convert Texas into a universal mail-in voting state. There have been many challenges to Texas election law this cycle. How very 2020 this new distraction in the political environment in Texas is, right?
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