Some more links of interest relating to the Paxton impeachment-a-thon. I suspect that as more reporters and columnists read the House General Investigations Committee’s report we will see more stories that zoom in on the particulars of his offenses. For instance, from TPM:
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.”
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.
All of this has been covered before, and I’ve faithfully blogged about it as well. But all this happened over the course of years, and most normal people have either forgotten it or never saw it in the first place. Now we’re going to get a greatest hits collection, all dumped in the course of a week or two. That will have an effect.
The Trib gets a lot of mileage from a conversation with committee vice chair Rep. Ann Johnson.
“No one person should be above the law — least not the top law enforcement officer of the state of Texas,” state Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, a member of the House Committee on General Investigating, told his House colleagues on Saturday.
“We should not ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen,” he said. “Texas is better than that.”
The impeachment charges centered on Paxton’s entanglement with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor whose relationship with Paxton as a friend and political donor had caused several of his staff members to report him to federal authorities and prompted an FBI investigation — which Paxton allegedly refused to help law enforcement with. Paul was fined more than $180,000 and ordered to serve jail time by a state judge after he was found in contempt of court earlier this year.
“All roads lead to Nate Paul,” state Rep. Ann Johnson, a Houston Democrat and vice chair of the investigating committee, told the chamber before outlining Paxton’s yearslong relationship with his friend.
Members of the House committee that investigated Paxton said they believed he broke the law by using the agency to serve the interests of Paul, from whom he allegedly took bribes — including when the real estate developer was sued for fraud.
Eight top deputies from Paxton’s office reported him to federal authorities almost three years ago, alleging he had misused his authority to help Paul with a fraud lawsuit from the Austin nonprofit Roy F. & Joann Cole Mitte Foundation.
Spiller said Saturday that Paxton demonstrated an intense desire to help his friend with the lawsuit against the advice of his deputy attorney general. In return, Paxton allegedly received bribes and favors from Paul — from home remodeling to hiring a woman with whom Paxton had an affair.
In one now-infamous story, Paxton allegedly accepted $20,000 worth of countertop materials from Paul through contractors renovating his home in Austin.
Johnson said they learned of the story after talking to a “young man” who worked at the AG’s office. The employee, Johnson said, once observed Paxton and a contractor discussing a remodel. During the exchange, Johnson said, the contractor said he needed to “talk to Nate” before proceeding with a change to the kitchen countertops.
“This young man is disturbed” by the interaction, Johnson said as she retold the story. “In fact, he is crushed by it. He believes Ken Paxton is one of his heroes.”
The employee eventually turned down a promotion and then quit the office. But he allegedly continued to receive money from Paxton’s campaign for a few months after, Johnson said, implying that the monthly $250 checks were Paxton’s attempt to keep the young man quiet. She said the former staffer called the campaign to tell them to stop sending the money and sent it back.
Earlier in the week, a Paxton aide tried to cast doubt on the investigation by disputing the materials of the countertops involved in the home remodel. Paxton and his supporters also attempted to undermine the report by claiming that the allegations were largely made by “political” appointees — an assertion that House committee members swiftly shot down Saturday.
Committee members also claimed that Paul helped Paxton maintain his affair with a San Antonio woman by giving her a job at Paul’s company in Austin. It made her “more convenient” to Paxton, Johnson said.
Johnson claimed that a distraught Paxton once bemoaned his continued love for the woman he was having an affair with to his staff, who were gravely concerned that it was improper and could open the attorney general’s office up to blackmail. Exposure of the affair, Johnson said, would have risked Paxton’s reputation as a “Christian man” who cherishes “family values” with his political base.
“He has an interest in attempting to keep this affair quiet,” Johnson said. “He also has an interest in continuing it.”
And then there was the divinely-inspired donation at a local Dairy Queen.
While Paxton was serving in the Texas Legislature as a state representative a decade ago, he became affiliated with the CEO of Servergy, a McKinney-based software company that courted him as a partner. William Mapp, the firm’s founder and former CEO, had donated to Paxton’s campaign and the two decided to go into business together.
At a Dairy Queen, the CEO reportedly said that “God had directed him” to give Paxton 100,000 shares of company stock, which Paxton argued shows the stock was a gift.
“However, documents … indicate that the stock was, again, for services,” the House Committee’s report said.
The Servergy relationship became the subject of a felony securities fraud indictment in 2015 that accused Paxton of recruiting investors without disclosing his own investment in the company or attempting to confirm the company’s claims about its technology.
According to the SEC, he persuaded five people to invest $840,000 into the company. The case is still ongoing.
The House committee’s members said they began probing Paxton’s behavior after the attorney general requested $3.3 million from the state to settle a lawsuit with the whistleblowers fired from his office after they accused Paxton of accepting bribes and other misconduct.
“There was no investigation prior to this time,” [Rep. Charlie] Geren, one of the committee’s five members, said on the House floor Saturday.
The settlement served Paxton by avoiding a trial that may have exposed to the public even more details of the attorney general’s wrongdoing, Geren said.
“Most disturbingly, the settlement agreement was made without prior approval of funds and obligates the Texas taxpayers — not [Attorney] General Paxton — to pay $3.3 million for his actions,” Geren told his House colleagues.
Yep, that’s from the 2015 state charges against Paxton that are still awaiting some form of resolution. Everyone knows that Paxton has been under indictment for nearly a decade. I’ll bet most people by now have forgotten what he’s under indictment for. Well, they’re going to be hearing about that again, too.
They’ll also be hearing a lot more about Nate Paul and his relationship with Paxton.
[Nate Paul] has been fighting multiple bankruptcies and legal battles with creditors for years. He was recently ordered to pay over $180,000 in fines and spend 10 days in jail for contempt of court in Travis County, and is appealing that ruling.
His company, World Class Holdings, reportedly owned the 156-acre former 3M campus in northwest Austin, as well as prime downtown parcels. Together with a portfolio of storage facilities located in several states, the company’s worth at one time was said to have approached $1 billion.
Personally, Paul owns a 9,000-square-foot mansion west of downtown Austin appraised at $7.1 million, according to Travis Central Appraisal District records.
Leading up to the pandemic, Paul’s business empire began to falter. Between 2019 and 2020, 18 of Paul’s companies declared bankruptcy, according to the Austin Business Journal, which has covered Paul’s comings and goings extensively since 2014, when his name suddenly became the most searched phrase on the newspaper’s website.
World Class also has been embroiled in several lawsuits involving investors and partners. And in August 2019, his business and home reportedly were raided by federal and state agents.
Paul said he was quickly able to acquire properties because of real estate prices suppressed by the 2009 recession. In 2015, he made a splash by bidding $800 million for a portfolio of properties including New York City’s legendary Plaza Hotel.
He also began raising his personal profile. In 2015, he was photographed with then-candidate Donald Trump, a meeting set up by a business associate who once worked for Trump.
He reportedly has hobnobbed with celebrities, including Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley, whom he met at UT; and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
In 2018, he donated just under $50,000 to a variety of Republican politicians, including $25,000 to Paxton.
And what about the Senator-wife, who is now on the jury panel for his trial? I don’t care about Angela Paxton’s biography or any of that soft-focus stuff. She’s as terrible a person as he is. I want to know how that mess might play out.
On Saturday, just two days before the Legislature was set to adjourn, the House voted to impeach Ken Paxton. The case now goes to the Senate for a full trial to decide whether he will be removed from office permanently.
Ken Paxton has said he thinks he will get a “quick resolution” in the Senate, “where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just.” The Senate is not only more conservative than the House, but the small, tight-knit chamber is ruled with an iron fist by [Dan] Patrick, a key ally of both Paxtons.
But Patrick has not yet stepped up to defend Ken Paxton, instead saying he intends to call a trial.
“We will all be responsible as any juror would be, if that turns out to be, and I think the members will do their duty,” Patrick told WFAA-TV. “I will be presiding over that case and the senators — all 31 senators — will have a vote. We’ll set the rules for that trial as we go forward and we’ll see how that develops.”
Because Texas has not impeached anyone in almost 50 years, Patrick has a lot of power to design the process to suit his goals. One of the central, unanswered questions is Angela Paxton’s role in this procedural drama.
Public Citizen, a progressive government watchdog, has called for her to recuse herself. She has not yet said how she plans to handle her role.
“My guess is she will have to step aside in the course of this,” [UH poli-sci professor Brandon] Rottinghaus said. “There’s no ethical way she can be a juror in this case.”
But even if she recuses, it’s difficult to eliminate her influence from the proceedings, as a colleague of the jurors, an ally of Patrick’s and a surrogate for her husband. On Saturday, while the House considered the impeachment articles, she was on the floor of the Senate, socializing with her colleagues.
“In the Senate, particularly, loyalties matter,” Rottinghaus said. “Many of the senators have loyalties to their fellow senators, to the lieutenant governor, but also a lot of these members have [loyalty] to the network of conservative Republicans who put a lot of these members in office.”
I really don’t know what happens here. I think the only way Angela Paxton recuses herself is if Dan Patrick makes her, and I’m not even sure he can make her. I think if she does recuse herself it will be because the outcome is clear one way or the other and her vote won’t matter. If it’s at all in doubt, I just don’t believe she’ll step aside.
In the meantime, there’s that big question everyone keep asking: Why did this all happen now?
Well, there are a few possible answers to that.
The material facts of the case changed in the past few months. The whistleblowers had a slam-dunk case for illegal termination. Some of them sued. Partly in order to shut down the lawsuit quickly—and to prevent the plaintiffs from liberating AG documents via the discovery process—Paxton settled in February 2023, offering them $3.3 million in taxpayer money. He asked lawmakers to fund the settlement. Even though the dollar amount was trivial, this didn’t sit well with many in the Legislature. Paxton was asking them to eat a turd sandwich so he could protect himself from his own stupidity. It made them look bad. It made the party look bad.
In March, the House Committee on General Investigating opened an investigation into the settlement. The committee is most famous this session for laying the groundwork for the unanimous expulsion of Bryan Slaton, the Republican former representative from Royse City who had sex with a nineteen-year-old staffer after giving her alcohol. The Slaton case was known within the committee as “Matter B.” The Paxton inquiry was known as “Matter A.” The committee has been working on it for months, hiring five investigators. Though their work was clearly diligent and thorough, it couldn’t have been all that difficult: most of the material behind the twenty impeachment charges the committee gave to the House is publicly available. Some of it has been known for the better part of a decade.
And look, these guys all knew what Paxton was. There’s a famous story about Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott that has circulated in Lege circles for years but has never been addressed by either man. When Paxton was a lowly lawmaker and Abbott was the attorney general, the story goes, they ended up in a box together at a football game. Supposedly, Abbott unleashed on Paxton about his unethical and potentially illegal behavior, making his contempt clear. Within just a few years, Paxton was attorney general and Abbott was celebrating him on the campaign trail. Lawmakers and state leaders hadn’t learned to love Paxton, presumably. But taking him on would have eaten up political capital and alienated Paxton’s powerful right-wing backers. So they just . . . didn’t.
The reality is, there was no clear way for the Lege to get rid of Paxton other than by beating him in an election or impeaching him. The first has proven very difficult. Impeachment, which is so alien a process to the modern Legislature that it might as well have come from Mars, needed a hook. Nothing Paxton did before he became attorney general would work. It’s arguably not until this session that the Lege has had a clear case: Paxton asked for taxpayer money to pay off whistleblowers he had illegally fired to cover up other illegal activity. On Friday, the House committee conducting the investigation released a statement in which it underlined the connection. “We cannot over-emphasize the fact that, but for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement . . . Paxton would not be facing impeachment.”
But this is still an extraordinary, earthshaking thing for the Lege to do. After it became public what the House was up to, Paxton was asked by a conservative radio host what he thought about the news. Paxton affected an air of wounded surprise. “I have no idea why they’ve chosen to do this,” he said. The House had violated the omertà that state officials in Texas generally follow, in other words—they don’t hold each other accountable. In a properly functional system, of course, they’d be doing that all the time.
I have some thoughts about this as well. I’ll address them in a post tomorrow.
Finally, it’s probably best to maintain a little cynicism as we watch this play out.
Various media outlets, and a few of Paxton’s defenders, have made much of the lightning speed of this past week. But while it may have been mere days between the Republican-led House General Investigating Committee’s announcement of their investigation and their unanimous vote to introduce 20 articles of impeachment to the full House for Saturday’s hearing and impeachment vote, Paxton has been under felony indictment for securities fraud since he became attorney general in 2015. The FBI had been investigating Paxton on allegations that he used his office to benefit a wealthy donor, Nate Paul, since late 2020. Only in February of this year did the Department of Justice take over that probe, breathing new life into it.
Paxton’s overreach the next month, in March of this year, appears to have been the second-to-last straw. According to the committee’s own memo, released the day before the full House hearing: “But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment.” Not, please note, the wrongful conduct—that is, Paxton’s firing of four whistleblowing members of his own senior staff after they accused him of using his office to help out Paul. Nor Paxton’s decision this past spring to pay $3.3 million to settle out of court. Or even the $600,000 the House spent defending Paxton. But Paxton’s request that taxpayers pay that $3.3 million—and that his fellow GOP colleagues go on record approving that request.
The final straw? Paxton, likely knowing that Phelan was going to try to gloss this most recent disgusting legislative term by ending it on a high note, called on him to resign last week over alleged drunkenness—via a tweet. Making it look super-extra-duper political when the House General Investigating Committee revealed that afternoon that it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March. The committee then heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general and voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.
Believe me when I say that I, like many people who have been burned by the Texas GOP’s seemingly endless appetite for cruelty, ignorance, and hypocrisy, felt a certain satisfaction as I watched yesterday’s coverage of it setting itself on fire. Top moment? When the first group to appear outside the Capitol in Austin in response to Paxton’s call for supporters to turn out was around 100 people preparing for the “Trot for Trans Lives,” a 5K run held in support of transgender Americans affected by the waves of anti-trans rights legislation passed in recent years, including by Texas lawmakers.
Small pleasures aside, none of this is as satisfying as it sounds, nor do I think it will end well. First of all, because of all the bureaucracy that lies ahead. Governor Greg Abbott, who has remained curiously silent this past week while he sticks his finger into the political wind, has 10 days to tell the Senate to start a trial. A trial that would be presided over by Paxton buddy arch-conservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and that’s likely to be kicked down the road infinitely and/or end with an acquittal.
Yeah, the timing of what happens next remains unclear to me. If nothing else, we’re getting a partial special session at some point.
Like I said, I’ll have some thoughts on the “why” and “why now” of this tomorrow. Until then, if all this hasn’t been enough for you, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, and the Rivard Report have more.