It seems that after nearly a decade of biding time and dodging legal peril, Ken Paxton’s luck may finally be running out.
The long-indicted Attorney General, having recently been impeached by an overwhelming and bipartisan vote in the Texas House, is awaiting his trial before the Texas Senate, and likely sweating buckets at the thought of facing off with the state’s prosecution team.
Headed by legendary Texas attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, the prosecution against Paxton has lined up the kind of legal firepower rarely seen in any courtroom, much less a government proceeding.
While DeGuerin and Hardin are as big as names get in Texas legal circles, Paxton hasn’t exactly tapped a slouch, either. Bombastic Houston attorney Tony Buzbee has taken on Paxton’s defense, and while the colorful and enigmatic Buzbee raised more than a few eyebrows at times during his 2019 campaign for Houston mayor, he’s a beast in a courtroom with a special knack for reaching jurors.
The challenge for Buzbee, who represented Rick Perry in a corruption scandal and has also done work for Donald Trump, is going to be the ocean of evidence that impeachment managers, along with DeGuerin and Hardin, will be rolling out against Paxton, and recent developments that may only make Paxton’s legal headache much worse.
Late last week, reports surfaced that Austin-based real estate investor Nate Paul was in custody at the Travis County Jail with a note in his booking record to “hold for feds.”
Paul was indicted on eight counts of making false statements to financial institutions, allegedly inflating assets to secure massive loans, with the government seeking restitution of a staggering $172 million.
Followers of the Paxton saga are familiar with Paul’s name. He’s been a central figure in Paxton’s foibles as the campaign donor to who Paxton is alleged to have traded favors to in exchange for employing his mistress and remodeling his home, among other allegations.
Paxton is believed to remain under federal investigation for allegedly using the Office of the Attorney General to help Paul, actions that led a group of staffers to report Paxton’s allegations before being dismissed or resigning from the office.
The whistleblowers subsequently sued, and Paxton sought $3.3 million of Texas taxpayer money to fund a settlement of the lawsuit. That settlement needed approval from the legislature, and when the legislature started asking questions, things got complicated for Paxton.
And Paul’s recent indictment could only deepen the difficulty for Paxton. One of the counts in the indictment is tied directly tied to Paxton’s impeachment. One of the banks Paul allegedly defrauded was subpoenaed by an attorney that Paxton hired on Paul’s recommendation to assist Paul with his growing legal issues.
That attorney had no authority to issue subpoenas, and their activity ultimately raised the alarm bells that led to the whistleblowers coming forward.
While Paul now faces a world of legal difficulty, he also has one potent card to play: Paxton. If Paul is found guilty of the crimes he’s charged with he could face decades in prison, along with $172 million of restitution payments to make.
If Paul were able to strike a deal to cooperate with federal prosecutors, that would likely spell the end of Paxton’s impeachment defense, and possibly his criminal defense.
It is important to note that Paul has only been charged with crimes and should be presumed innocent unless he’s convicted. The same goes for Paxton, but Paxton alone seems to be uniquely playing with fire with his impeachment defense. By charging forward to defend himself against the articles of impeachment against him, he’s allowing the prosecution to make a public case against his misdeeds.
It could open Paxton up to even greater legal liability in the future, unless, of course, Paxton is telling the truth when he says he’s done nothing wrong.
Time will tell.
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.