To some men, a securities fraud indictment would be a reason to depart public service and to exit public life.
But the now-impeached Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton (R), is built differently — made of material that, until this week, has allowed him to allegedly take actions and endure a series of scandals that would have made most wither.
After his 2015 indictment, Paxton stayed in office, delaying the trial and allegedly continuing to commit crimes, which then led to a whistleblower lawsuit. To settle that case and avoid an embarrassing trial, Paxton asked the Texas legislature to fund a $3.3 million settlement between himself and a set of whistleblowers who had once worked in his office and alleged they had been retaliated against.
Instead of approving the payout, state House Republicans with the legislature’s General Investigating Committee probed the allegations. That set the ball rolling on a series of events that led to yesterday’s overwhelming vote by the state House to impeach him over allegations of bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust. Whether he is permanently removed will be determined by a trial in the state Senate.
Paxton had fought back hard, going on conservative talk radio to deride Texas House speaker Dade Phelan (R) as a “liberal” and demanding his resignation while accusing him of being “intoxicated” while presiding over a legislative session.
But a detailed look at the allegations underlying Paxton’s fall suggests that he acted with a level of impunity stunning even by modern standards.
Among other things, Paxton allegedly fired four employees after they reported “acts of criminal bribery, tampering with government records, harassment, obstruction of justice, and abuse of office” to the FBI.
At the center of the allegations are Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and contributor to Paxton’s political campaigns who fell on hard financial times.
“The most senior members of the OAG believed in good faith that Paxton was breaking the law and abusing his office to benefit himself as well as his close friend and campaign donor, Austin businessman Nate Paul, and likely the woman with whom, according to media reports, Paxton has carried on a lengthy extramarital affair,” the whistleblowers’ lawsuit, filed in November 2020, reads.
FBI agents executed search warrants on Paul’s home and office in August 2019, the lawsuit says.
From there, Paul started calling in favors with Paxton. They included him asking Paxton to execute search warrants on nearly everyone involved in the chain of events that led to Paul’s own search, including:
- The federal magistrate who issued the warrants
- FBI agents who executed the searches
- The federal prosecutors who obtained the warrants
- A federal bankruptcy judge overseeing matters involving Paul’s properties
- An Austin charity involved in litigation with Paul
Per the lawsuit, Paul and Paxton enjoyed a cozy personal relationship as Paul made his demands. Paul allegedly hired Paxton’s mistress, which she then hid on her Linkedin profile. He gave Paxton a “major remodeling” of Paxton’s home in 2020 as well.
In exchange, Paxton used his office to undertake a series of action so egregious, the lawsuit says, “that they could only have been prompted by illicit motives such as a desire to repay debts, pay hush money, or reciprocate favors extended by Paul.”
In one instance, Paxton allegedly intervened to approve an open records request from Paul’s attorneys for records related to the FBI searches. When the records were released, Paxton allegedly “personally took the file, including all the responsive documents, which included documents sealed by a federal court, and did not return it for approximately seven to ten days.”
In another, Paul was facing litigation from a charity that his businesses had partnered with. The charity sued Paul’s company, claiming that it was being denied access to books and records from its business partner, with a receiver eventually being appointed to oversee the companies.
Paxton allegedly tried to use the attorney general’s office to interfere in the case, including one episode in which staff purportedly had to talk him down from appearing in person at a hearing in the matter.
Keep in mind: these are allegations made in the lawsuit. But Texas House investigators later corroborated many of these claims after Paxton agreed to issue an apology as part of a $3.3 million settlement that lawmakers never agreed to fund.
Other allegations involved Paxton issuing a legal opinion which used COVID-19 to justify halting foreclosure proceedings in August 2020, just as Paul had several foreclosures pending in Austin.
But arguably the most stunning allegations — substantiated by the Committee’s investigation — show how far Paxton went in trying to block the FBI’s probe.
“The OAG has approximately 400 open criminal cases and 2,000 open criminal investigations each year,” the lawsuit reads. “Paxton rarely showed an interest in any pending criminal investigations, but he showed an extraordinary interest in investigations sought by Nate Paul.”
Paxton allegedly set up a meeting with the Travis County District Attorney in an effort to have a criminal investigation into the federal prosecutors and FBI agents examining Paul opened. Specifically, Paxton wanted the officials to investigate a claim by Paul that the feds had forged a search warrant after a real one had been signed off on by a federal magistrate, thereby unlawfully gaining access.
As Attorney General officials denied that claim, Paul leaked the fact of Paxton’s investigation into his obviously false claims to the media — a winning strategy if there ever was one, but an approach which pales in comparison to what may have been the denouement of Paxton’s attempt to use his office to help his buddy out.
In September 2020, Paxton hired an attorney named Brandon Cammack as outside counsel. With five years of experience under his belt, Cammack allegedly began to investigate those investigating Paul.
Paxton purportedly claimed that he was “tired of his people not doing what he had asked,” before allegedly directing Cammack to act as a “special prosecutor.”
Per the lawsuit, Paxton empowered Cammack to act as a “special prosecutor” even though he hadn’t yet signed a contract with the Office of the Attorney General. One of the alleged whistleblowers to-be refused to sign an employment contract for Cammack; Cammack then, allegedly, at Paxton’s direction, falsely claimed to be a special prosecutor “in order to obtain grand jury subpoenas under false pretenses to investigate, harass, and intimidate Nate Paul’s perceived adversaries.”
In that mostly fake role, Cammack allegedly obtained 39 grand jury subpoenas directed at “law enforcement agents and federal prosecutors” involved in the Nate Paul investigation — much of the list that Paul initially asked Paxton to investigate.
It’s a stunning allegation of abuse of power, and one that essentially reads like a crime spree undertaken from within and with the reins of a state law enforcement agency.
The four employees-turned-whistleblowers reported the conduct to the FBI in September 2020, for which Paxton allegedly fired them the next month.
The eventual whistleblower lawsuit, filed in November 2020, resulted in a preliminary settlement with Paxton in February 2023. But when Paxton went to the state legislature asking it to appropriate $3.3 million to cover a settlement that would make the case go away, lawmakers demurred. It soon became clear the legislature had its own investigation into the allegations underway.
On Thursday, it started to come to an end with the Investigating Committee voting 5-0 to recommend impeaching Paxton over the allegations. Before Saturday, the last time a Texas official was impeached and removed was in the 1970s.
And there’s a lot which remains unknown about the case. Why was this the straw that seems to have broken the Texas House GOP’s back, after so much scandal from Paxton over the years? Why was Paxton so deeply invested in protecting Nate Paul?
Paxton dismissed the investigation in a statement by claiming that he was under attack from the left.
“By attacking the Office of the Attorney General, corrupted politicians in the Texas House, led by liberal speaker Dade Phelan, are actively destroying Texas’ position as the most powerful backstop against the Biden agenda in the entire country,” he said. “The RINOs in the Teas Legislature are now on the same side as Joe Biden, Alejandro Mayorkas, and Chuck Schumer, collaborating to tie our hands and render Texas less powerful and effective in the fight for the nation’s future.”