Bribery. Abuse of office. What we know about The Paxton Affair.

by | Oct 5, 2020 | Criminal Justice, Politics

On Friday, as President Donald Trump was hurriedly producing proof of life videos before being transported via helicopter from the White House to Walter Reed Medical Center, he was likely unaware that a full-blown insurrection was underway in the offices of the national co-chair for Lawyers for Trump.

Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, he of the fabled five-year indictment, most recently seen towing the company line at Gov. Greg Abbott’s dog and pony show Law and Order press conferences, was suddenly accused of a slew of misdeeds. The accusers weren’t his political opponents, who have spent years warning about his fitness for office, but by a group of seven high ranking staffers headlined by his first assistant, Jeff Mateer.

At the heart of these new allegations is Paxton’s relationship with an Austin real estate investor and major GOP donor named Nate Paul. Paul, who donated $25,000 to Paxton in his near-loss to Justin Nelson in 2018 and who has made large donations to Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Mike McCaul, has been the subject of a federal investigation and saw his home and office raided earlier this year by the feds.

Lingering concerns about Paxton’s relationship with the investor festered until they became a five-alarm fire on September 28, when Houston defense attorney Brandon Cammack turned up before a Travis County grand jury as a special prosecutor representing Paxton’s office. Under those auspices, Cammack obtained at least one subpoena to look into allegations of wrongdoing Nate Paul made against federal authorities in relation to August 2019 raids of his home and offices, according to reporting from the Austin American Statesman. 

After learning of the proceedings and Cammack’s participation in them, Paxton’s Deputy Attorney General Mark Penley sent an immediate cease and desist to Cammack, who appears to have been personally empowered by Paxton, telling the attorney he had no authority under state law to serve as a special prosecutor and that he may, in fact, have committed a crime.

In the letter, Penley said he had become aware that Cammack had served at least one business with a subpoena related to the grand jury proceedings, and the AG’s office took the unusual step to have any potential subpoenas sought by Cammack quashed, or thrown out, by a Travis County judge who granted that motion on Friday afternoon hours after it was submitted by the attorney general’s staff. 

Paxton’s aides submitted their criminal complaint the same day and sought a meeting with Paxton to discuss their allegations. Paxton, claiming to be out of the office and unable to meet on short notice, declined, asking instead that their concerns be relayed via email.

In the face of the aides alleging insidious abuses of office and outright bribery, Paxton and his team were caught flat-footed, releasing a rambling statement that alleged it was he who was investigating his office for criminal wrongdoing, and that they were acting in retaliation. It’s unclear if this accusation from Paxton violates the legal protections the seven whistleblowers are entitled to. 

Signal readers may remember Mateer, who was nominated to serve as a federal judge by President Trump but later withdrew from consideration after a series of homophobic tweets surfaced. He’s a longtime luminary in the conservative legal community and, according to lobbyists who have frequent conversations with Paxton and his allies, is not considered the type who would step out so publicly in the waning weeks of an election without a good reason. 

The troubles only intensified for Paxton on Sunday, with Patrick Svitek of The Texas Tribune reporting his longtime chief political adviser Jordan Berry had resigned as well.

With so much swirling overhead for the embattled attorney general, the time has come for the Texas GOP and elected officials up and down the ballot to demand his immediate resignation. It has always been a joke, at best, that we’ve allowed a man facing indictment for crimes he’s publicly admitted committing to serve as the people’s attorney. He cannot faithfully execute the duties of his office with these twin scandals worsening by the day, and the allegations about his abuse of the office are disqualifying for the top law enforcement official in the state.

Texas Republicans already suffer from a total lack of credibility when they try to launch into law and order arguments with Texas voters. From Rick Perry and Paxton smirking in their mugshots to the full-blown assault on our most cherished institutions being levied by Donald Trump, 2020 has been a banner year for Republicans willing to sacrifice the high road in its entirety. 

But to let Paxton linger in his role as attorney general while they attempt to tell you their assaults on voting access pass legal muster makes Paxton a legal liability for Governor Abbott, who has never been willing to push Paxton out as AG as long as they worked closely enough in unison. And if Abbott has proved anything through repeatedly calling press conferences to theatrically lie about criminal justice reform and his totalitarian demands to shut down-ballot drop off locations, it’s that nothing is more important to him than his own political calculus. 

And so it is, sadly, that if Republicans finally do force Paxton’s hand and show him the door, they’ll be doing the right thing. But make no mistake. They’ll be doing it for the wrong reasons, and voters will see through it.

Senior Advisor | + posts

Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.

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