In what’s been described as a “mutiny,” top deputies of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton signed onto a letter Friday accusing him of everything from “improper influence” to abuse of office, bribery “and other potential criminal offenses.”
Here’s what we know so far:
The letter, from Paxton’s top staff, alleges ‘a potential violation of law.’
The news broke Saturday night when Tony Plohetski, a reporter for KVUE and the Austin-American Statesman, revealed a letter in which seven top deputies of Paxton’s announced that they’d informed law enforcement of “a potential violation of law” by Paxton. The staffers also said they’d given statements to law enforcement.
NEW: This is the letter sent by 7 top aides to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton alleging the state’s top lawyer has committed multiple criminal violations. @statesman @KVUE. pic.twitter.com/1qNv290tJm
— Tony Plohetski (@tplohetski) October 4, 2020
The letter itself didn’t get into specifics about any alleged wrongdoing by Paxton, instead saying only that that his staff believed he “is violating federal and/or state law, including prohibitions relating to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery, and other potential criminal offenses.”
Paxton’s staff singled out a high-dollar political donor.
The staff’s letter also noted that they had “notified the Attorney General via text message” that they had “reported the violations to the appropriate law enforcement authority.” And on Sunday, the Houston Chronicle printed an image of the text message itself. In it, Paxton’s former top deputy Jeff Mateer — he resigned on Friday — singled out the state AG’s relationship with Nate Paul, a wealthy real estate developer and a high-dollar donor of Paxton’s.
“General Paxton, yesterday, each of the individuals on this text chain made a good faith report of violations of law by you to an appropriate law enforcement authority concerning your relationship with Nate Paul,” Mateer wrote.
Paul gave $25,000 to Paxton’s 2018 reelection campaign, the Chronicle noted. Paul’s home and office were raided by the FBI last year.
The ‘mutiny’ was reportedly spurred by a case involving Paxton’s donor friend.
An unnamed official in Paxton’s office told the Chronicle that the deputies’ letter was prompted by a special counsel Paxton had appointed to handle a case involving Paul.
The Statesman further reported Monday that the special counsel was looking into allegations of wrongdoing Paul had leveled against the law enforcement officials that raided his home and office last year
The special counsel, Houston lawyer Brandon Cammack, issued grand jury subpoenas last week that targeted “adversaries” of Paul’s, according to the Chronicle’s source.
On Friday, one of the Paxton letter’s signatories, deputy attorney general for criminal justice J. Mark Penley, successfully filed a motion to quash the subpoenas, the Chronicle reported. Penley told the court that Cammack “is not properly authorized to act as a Special Prosecutor, and […] has no authority to appear before the grand jury or issue grand jury subpoenas.” The Statesman reported that State District Judge Geoffrey Puryear quashed 37 subpoenas in total.
Paxton is still facing a 5-year-old indictment, and now faces calls to resign.
One curious fact about Texas’ attorney general is that, for five years, he has faced an indictment for financial crimes. Specifically, in 2015, he was indicted by a Collin County grand jury on felony securities fraud charges related to disclosure issues over his work for a technology firm. For years, Paxton has successfully delayed his own trial, even winning reelection in 2018.
But now, his former first assistant attorney general, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), has called for his resignation. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said the staffers’ allegations “raise serious concerns.”
And Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutors in the case against Paxton, told the Texas Tribune that “we’re going to look into this.” Another special prosecutor in Paxton’s case, Kent Schaffer, told the Chronicle, “We were trying to get this case resolved, but if this guy’s out committing crimes while he’s on bond, then it’s going to become an extremely serious matter.”
Paxton’s office suggests the whistleblowers will face legal scrutiny.
In a statement to the Tribune, an unnamed spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office implied that the staffers who blew the whistle against Paxton would now be the subject of legal scrutiny themselves.
“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,” the spokesperson said. “Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law.”
And Paxton himself called the whistleblowers “rogue employees” in a statement to the Chronicle. He began the statement by referencing Paul’s case:
“The Texas attorney general’s office was referred a case from Travis County regarding allegations of crimes relating to the FBI, other government agencies and individuals. My obligation as attorney general is to conduct an investigation upon such referral. Because employees from my office impeded the investigation and because I knew Nate Paul, I ultimately decided to hire an outside independent prosecutor to make his own independent determination. Despite the effort by rogue employees and their false allegations, the AG’s office will continue to seek justice in Texas.”