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Attorney General

The financial benefit of filing seditious lawsuits

Ladies and gentlemen, your Attorney General:

Best mugshot ever

Campaign contributions to embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton all but dried up last fall after senior staff accused the Republican of abusing his office to help a friend and political donor.

But Paxton’s fortunes reversed in December when, cheered on by President Donald Trump, he filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in four key battleground states.

In the days after mounting the unsuccessful legal bid, Paxton raked in nearly $150,000 — roughly half of his entire campaign haul in the last six months of 2020.

Still, Paxton raised just $305,500 in total, a tiny amount compared to other statewide elected officials who raised millions of dollars to support their campaigns.

Paxton’s own fundraising reports have typically been in seven figures. Campaign spokesman Ian Prior did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The low fundraising numbers show Paxton’s political career “is on life support,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“He went all in to back Trump and the far right and it was a losing play,” Rottinghaus said.

Paxton, in his second term, is up for reelection in 2022. His campaign account has about $5.5 million cash on hand.

[…]

After the seven employees’ accusations went public in early October, Paxton raised roughly $10,000, his campaign finance report shows. In November, his campaign brought in $75.

Paxton raised nothing more until Dec. 8, the day after he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn election results in four states that helped deliver the presidency to Democrat Joe Biden. A few days later, the high court rejected the challenge, which was cast by legal experts as a long shot and an unfounded attempt to nullify millions of lawful ballots.

During that time, Paxton’s campaign brought in hundreds of mostly small donations from across the country. The l argest, a $25,000 contribution, came on Dec. 10 from James Dondero, co-founder of Dallas-based Highland Capital Management, the campaign finance report shows.

Whoever said crime doesn’t pay? He can only sue to overturn the election once, but he can sue over pretty much everything the Biden administration does, if he wants to keep tapping that source of campaign cash. That lawsuit over the deportation pause is the opening salvo. Maybe this strategy to boost his campaign coffers, and score a few policy wins, won’t work, but I feel pretty confident that it won’t stop him from trying.

A brief summary of what the next two years will be like

What will Republicans do without Trump?

“The Republican Party is at a crossroads like it’s never been before, and it’s gonna have to decide who it is,” said Corbin Casteel, a Texas GOP operative who was Trump’s Texas state director during the 2016 primary.

No one seems to be under the illusion that Trump will fade quietly. Since losing the election to Joe Biden in November, Trump has launched baseless attacks on the integrity of the election as most prominent Texans in his party let his claims go unchallenged. Some of Trump’s most loyal allies in Texas expect he’ll be a force here for years.

“The party is really built around Donald Trump — the brand, the image, but most importantly, his policies and what he accomplished,” [Dan] Patrick said during a Fox News interview Thursday. “Whoever runs in 2024, if they walk away from Trump and his policies, I don’t think they can get through a primary.”

To Texas Democrats, Trump has been a highly galvanizing force who created new political opportunities for them, particularly in the suburbs. He carried the state by 9 percentage points in 2016 — the smallest margin for a GOP nominee in Texas in two decades — and then an even smaller margin last year. But his 6-point win here in November came after Democrats spent months getting their hopes up that Trump would lose the state altogether, and they also came up woefully short down-ballot, concluding the Trump era with decisively mixed feelings about his electoral impact at the state level.

More broadly, some Texas Democrats believe Trump is leaving a legacy as a symptom of the state’s current Republican politics, not a cause of it.

“Frankly I don’t think he changed the Republican Party in Texas,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the state Democratic Party chair, adding that Trump has instead magnified the “extreme politics and tendencies” that Texas Republicans have long harbored. “The things that [Trump] stands for — the white nationalism, the anti-LGBT [sentiment], the just flat-out racism, just the absolute meanness — that’s what the Republican Party has been in Texas for quite some time.”

As for Texas Republicans’ embrace of Trump, Hinojosa added, they “are the people that Trump talks about when he says he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose their support.”

[…]

To be sure, it’s entirely possible Republicans unite in the next year the way political parties do when they’re in the minority — with an oppositional message to the opposing administration. But the GOP’s longer-term challenges could prove harder to resolve. In the final years of Trump, some in the party drifted from any unifying policy vision. At the 2020 Republican National Convention, the party opted not to create a new platform, saying it would instead “continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda.”

November’s elections in Texas did little to settle the debate over which direction the party should go. Those who want to move on note that Trump won with the narrowest margin for a GOP presidential candidate this century, and swing-seat Republican congressional contenders largely outperformed him in their districts.

“Most every Republican that was successful, with the exception of a handful, outperformed Donald Trump by a significant margin,” Hurd said. “If you’re not growing, you are dying, and if we’re not expanding to those voters that are disaffected and don’t believe in the message that Democrats are providing, then we’re not going to be able to grow.”

On the other hand, Trump’s 6-point margin was bigger than expected, and he performed surprisingly well in Hispanic communities in South Texas. Former Texas GOP Chair James Dickey said Trump’s message was “particularly effective” in swaths of the state that aren’t typically looked at as political bellwethers.

“His biggest impact has been a return to populist roots and an expansion of the party in minority communities, which, again, is a return to its roots,” Dickey said.

My medium-lukewarm take based on 2018, 2020, and the Georgia runoffs is that Republicans do better with Trump on the ballot than not. Dems made the big gains in 2018 in part because Republican turnout, as high as it was in that off-year, wasn’t as good as it could have been. The GOP got some low-propensity voters to turn out in November – as did Dems – and now they have to try to get them to turn out again. Maybe they will! Maybe with Trump gone some number of former Republicans who voted Dem because they hated Trump will find their way back to the GOP. Or maybe those folks are now full-on Dems. The national atmosphere will be critical to how 2022 goes – the economy, the vaccination effort, the Senate trial of Trump, further fallout from the Capitol insurrection, and just overall whether people think the Dems have done too much, too little, or the right amount. Dems can only control what they do.

And that’s going to mean playing some defense.

Democrats are headed back to the White House, and Texas Republicans are gearing up to go back on offense.

For eight years under President Barack Obama, Texas was a conservative counterweight to a progressive administration, with its Republican leaders campaigning against liberal policies on immigration, the environment and health care and lobbing lawsuit after federal lawsuit challenging scores of Democratic initiatives. When Republicans could not block policies in Congress, they sometimes could in the courts.

Now, as Joe Biden enters the White House promising a slew of executive orders and proposed legislation, the notorious “Texas vs. the feds” lawsuits are expected to return in full force. And state leaders have begun to float policy proposals for this year’s legislative session in response to expected action — or inaction — from a White House run by Democrats.

[…]

Under Trump, Texas has often found itself aligned with the federal government in the courts. Most notably, the Trump administration lined up with a Texas-led coalition of red states seeking to end the Affordable Care Act. That case is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Once Biden enters the White House and his appointees lead everything from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Homeland Security, Texas’ conservative leaders will return to a familiar posture: adversary, not ally, to those making national policy.

Paul Nolette, a professor at Marquette University who studies federalism, said he expects Texas to be “at the top of the heap” among Republican attorneys general challenging the new administration in court.

According to Nolette, the number of multi-state lawsuits against the federal government skyrocketed from 78 under eight years of Obama to 145 during just four years of Trump.

“Republican AGs will take a very aggressive multi-state approach,” Nolette predicted. “It’ll happen quickly.”

It should be noted that a lot of those lawsuits were not successful. I don’t know what the scoreboard looks like, and some of those suits are still active, so write that in pencil and not in Sharpie. It should also be noted that the goal of some of these lawsuits, like ending DACA and killing the Affordable Care Act, are not exactly in line with public opinion, so winning may not have the effect the GOP hopes it would have. And of course AG Ken Paxton is under federal indictment (no pardon, sorry), leading a hollowed-out office, and not in great electoral shape for 2022. There’s definitely a chance Texas is not at the front of this parade in 2022.

My point is simply this: There’s a lot of ways the next two years can go. I think the main factors look obvious right now, but nothing is ever exactly as we think it is. I think Democrats nationally have a good idea of what their goals are and how they will achieve them, but it all comes down to execution. Keep your eye on the ball.

Bail reform plaintiffs want Paxton booted from case

I for one am a fan of kicking out Ken Paxton in any context.

Best mugshot ever

In a strategic move that could speed up their case against Harris County, the plaintiffs challenging felony bail practices are hoping to kick two dozen players out of the game — 23 judges and Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who represents most of them in the landmark suit.

These judges who dole out bail rulings on a daily basis to people accused of crime would become third parties. They would no longer go toe-to-toe with indigent defendants who sued in a civil rights case saying courts offer a vastly different outcomes to people arrested depending on how much money they have in their pocket.

The motion filed Wednesday asks Lee H. Rosenthal, the chief judge of the Southern District of Texas, to dismiss the felony judges as parties from the 2019 lawsuit. Should the judge grant it, the remaining defendants in the case would be the county and its sheriff. The majority in county government are in sync with bail reform and the sheriff’s office is headed by Ed Gonzalez, who has said that setting arbitrarily high bail rates doesn’t protect the public.

Paxton has been an impediment to progress, said Neal Manne, a pro bono lawyer from Susman Godfrey LLP, who is among the lead counsel behind twin bail challenges, to misdemeanor and felony bail.

“The county and the sheriff are actually operating in good faith and would like to figure out a solution to a terrible problem. The attorney general is not acting in good faith, he just wants to find ways to disrupt and disrupt and prevent any reform from happening.”

[…]

The idea of removing the judges from the case stems from a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case that took on Dallas County’s bail system. The appellate court determined that sovereign immunity protected the Dallas judges from being sued over their bail practices. The 5th Circuit ruling said the sheriff is the key party to sue to obtain relief for people who are being detained unconstitutionally due to unaffordable bail.

See here for the previous update. The theory, as espoused by Judge Chuck Silverman, who is not represented by Paxton and agrees with the plaintiffs, is that this would thin the herd in the courtroom, which in turn might make it easier to come to a settlement agreement. It might also put some of the judges who are currently being represented by the AG’s office on the spot, and I’m fine with that.

It’s going to be lawsuit season again

Not looking forward to it, but it’s better than the alternative.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

President-elect Joe Biden has big plans for his first 100 days in office, when he’s vowed to roll back the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown, push policies addressing climate change and potentially forgive student debt for thousands of Americans.

He’s also said he’ll push a mask mandate to combat COVID-19 and wants Congress to pass another massive stimulus package. And in the longer term, Biden has talked about rewriting the tax code to raise taxes on the rich.

Texas is almost certain to fight him every step of the way.

The state is about to be back on the front lines battling against the federal government, a long tradition for its Republican leaders, from former Gov. Rick Perry to Gov. Greg Abbott — who as the state’s attorney general famously said, “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.”

Abbott’s successor, Attorney General Ken Paxton, has been just as committed to pushing back on federal laws and mandates championed by Democrats. Most recently he led a failed lawsuit seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in four battleground states at the U.S. Supreme Court. Paxton did not respond to a request for comment.

As Biden takes office next week, many expect the state to pick up where it left off after suing the Obama administration dozens of times to stop initiatives such as the Clean Power Plan, scrap protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and end the Affordable Care Act.

The conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation — which filed the Obamacare challenge that Paxton joined and is now before the Supreme Court — is gearing up to start grinding out challenges to a slew of White House priorities regarding immigration, energy and taxes.

“On the eve of the election we were discussing internally, ‘Well, what would happen if Biden won?’ One thing everyone pretty much agreed on is our litigation center would probably increase in size significantly,” said Chuck DeVore, vice president of national initiatives at TPPF. “We’re kind of excited about it.”

Robert Henneke, general counsel at the TPPF, wouldn’t say whether the group’s legal staff has grown as expected, but did say they are bracing for battles ahead as he expects the Biden administration to “pick up where the Obama administration left off.”

The story goes on to list some likely future battles, a couple of which are ongoing now. It should be noted that Texas’ record suing the Obama administration wasn’t particularly good, though now there are all those Trump judges on the bench, so who knows what can happen. One other thing that can happen is we can boot our felonious Attorney General out of office next year. That won’t stop bad actors in the private sector from bringing cases, but it will at least keep them from having the state’s imprimatur on them. All I can say beyond that is I hope they feel the need to file lawsuits for a lot longer than the next four years.

SCOTUS rejects TDP petition on vote by mail

Back to the lower court, I think.

The U.S. Supreme Court turned away a Democratic bid to force universal vote-by-mail in Texas, leaving intact a state law that lets people cast no-excuse absentee ballots only if they are 65 or older.

The Texas Democratic Party and its allies argued unsuccessfully that the law violates the Constitution’s 26th Amendment, which says the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.”

Voting by mail became a sharply partisan issue amid President Donald Trump’s unsupported contentions that the practice led to widespread fraud in the November election. Texas’s Republican governor and attorney general urged the Supreme Court to reject the Democratic appeal.

A divided federal appeals court in September rejected the 26th Amendment claim, saying the Texas law didn’t make it more difficult for anyone to vote. The panel left open the possibility the law could be challenged as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The Supreme Court also rejected Texas Democrats in June, when the justices refused to reinstate a trial judge’s order that would have let any voter request an absentee ballot to avoid the risk of contracting Covid-19. That order, which was blocked by the appeals court, was designed to govern the 2020 election and might have boosted Democrats’ prospects.

See here for the last update, which was a petition for review of the Fifth Circuit ruling that kept intact the existing law on vote by mail in Texas as the original lawsuit that claimed the existing law violated the 26th Amendment is litigated. If I understand this correctly, the original case needs to be re-argued, with guidance from that Fifth Circuit ruling, and then once there is a ruling on the merits, we’ll go through the appeals process again. Or maybe not, if Congress and President Biden can pass a new Voting Rights Act that would allow for this nationally. I don’t see that particular provision in there now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t or wouldn’t be there. Anyway, it’s kind of a non-starter now, since the effort was to make that happen in 2020, but it’s never too late to make it easier to vote. Just don’t expect anything to happen in the short term, outside of what Congress may do. Reuters has more.

Ken Paxton couldn’t be more on brand if he tried

News item: Texas laws protecting whistleblowers don’t apply to Attorney General Ken Paxton, his agency argues in bid to quash lawsuit. Who among us didn’t already know that Ken Paxton doesn’t think the law applies to him?

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s Office is attempting to fight off efforts by four former aides to take depositions and issue subpoenas in their lawsuit claiming they were illegally fired after telling authorities they believed Attorney General Ken Paxton was breaking the law.

The agency is arguing that Paxton is “not a public employee” and thus the office cannot be sued under the Texas Whistleblower Act, which aims to protect government workers from retaliation when they report superiors for breaking the law.

Four former Paxton aides claim they were fired in retaliation for telling authorities they believed Paxton had done illegal favors for a political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul. The whistleblowers’ allegations have reportedly sparked an FBI investigation.

In seeking reinstatement and other financial damages, the whistleblowers want to question Paxton himself under oath, as well as Brent Webster, his top deputy at the attorney general’s office, and Brandon Cammack, a Houston lawyer Paxton hired to investigate complaints made by Paul in what aides say was a favor to the donor. They also issued subpoenas to Paul’s company and a woman alleged to have been Paxton’s mistress.

[…]

The whistleblowers sought to question Paxton, Webster and Cammack under oath as soon as next week. Michael Wynne, an attorney for Paul, accepted the subpoenas for both World Class and the woman, court documents show. She could not be reached for comment and Wynne did not return a request for comment.

But in a filing last week, the attorney general’s office asked the judge to quash the depositions and the subpoenas, and prevent the whistleblowers from conducting any discovery.

“The OAG is doing everything they can muster to avoid having Ken Paxton answer basic questions under oath about the facts,” said Carlos Soltero, an attorney for one of the whistleblowers.

Instead, the agency said, the Travis County judge should dismiss the case entirely on procedural grounds.

The Texas Whistleblower Act — the basis for the lawsuit — is designed to provide protection for public employees who, in good faith, tell authorities they believe their superiors are breaking the law. But the attorney general’s office claims the agency cannot be sued under the law because Paxton is an elected official.

“The Attorney General is neither a governmental entity nor a public employee and, thus, the Whistleblower Act does not extend protection to reports of unlawful conduct made against the Attorney General personally,” the agency argued. “The Act does not apply… for reports made about actions taken personally by the elected Attorney General.”

Comparing Paxton’s authority to that of the president of the United States, the agency claimed that the attorney general had the right to fire the employees, despite their claims of retaliation.

Under that theory, “he’s saying that elected officials aren’t accountable” for violating the Whistleblower Act, said Jason Smith, a North Texas employment attorney who has handled whistleblower cases.

“It appears that General Paxton is trying to get off on a technicality that doesn’t exist,” he added.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have anything clever to add here, just that I hope this defense is as successful as his lawsuit to overturn the Presidential election was.

Why would he condemn something he supported?

We know who and what Ken Paxton is.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is the only state attorney general to decline to join letters over the past week condemning the Capitol riot.

In a Jan. 12 letter, 50 state and territorial attorneys general who belong to the National Association of Attorneys General denounced the “lawless violence.” The three remaining state attorneys general not included in that letter wrote their own Wednesday, leaving Paxton as the only holdout.

Paxton is a staunch Trump supporter who co-chaired the re-election group Lawyers for Trump. He spoke at the “Save America” rally at the Capitol in the hours prior to the riot last week, telling the crowds “we will not quit fighting” to overturn the election results. Neither Paxton’s office nor his campaign spokesman responded to requests for comment.

“The events of January 6 represent a direct, physical challenge to the rule of law and our democratic republic itself,” the Jan. 12 letter read. “Together, we will continue to do our part to repair the damage done to institutions and build a more perfect union. As Americans, and those charged with enforcing the law, we must come together to condemn lawless violence, making clear that such actions will not be allowed to go unchecked.”

In a separate letter Wednesday, the attorneys general of Indiana, Montana and Louisiana wrote: “In all forms and all instances, violent acts carried out in the name of political ideology have no place in any of our United States.”

To be fair, you can’t expect a serial lawbreaker to venerate the rule of law. It just gets in his way. Also, that “rally” he was at was organized in part by people who also helped organize the storming of the Capitol. Like I said, why would he condemn something he supports?

UPDATE: Here’s the Trib story, which contains this bit of tangential business at the end:

On Wednesday, Paxton’s office was also hit with the loss of one of its top staffers.

Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins is leaving the agency, the Associated Press reported Wednesday. The exit comes in the wake of a scandal at the agency, and also Paxton’s controversial lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn the election results, which Hawkins — the agency’s appellate expert — did not sign onto. Hawkins has not answered questions about his decision to leave or why his name did not appear on the case.

Perhaps some day we’ll hear that story. In the meantime, chalk this up as another example of Ken Paxton being bad at his job.

What to do about Ted and Kenny?

You wouldn’t think it would be possible for Ted Cruz to become more loathesome, but if you think that you seriously underestimate him.

Not Ted Cruz

Two nights before the Electoral College certification in Congress, Ted Cruz was in vintage form.

The junior U.S. senator from Texas was calling in to a friendly conservative radio host — Mark Levin — and setting up Wednesday’s vote to be the kind of intraparty line in the sand that has powered his political rise.

By then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had made clear that he opposed objections to certifying Joe Biden’s election as the next president. But Cruz and 10 other GOP senators announced they would still object unless Congress agreed to an “emergency audit” of the presidential election results.

Cruz told Levin that there were some conservatives “who in good conscience” disagree with his view of Congress’ role in certifying the presidential election results, and that he had talked to them and did not fault them. On the other hand, Cruz said, there were “some Republicans who are not conservatives but who are piously and self-righteously preening” when it comes to the issue.

In spearheading the group of objectors, Cruz arguably upstaged U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, who announced his plan to object three days earlier — and, like Cruz, is considered a potential 2024 presidential contender.

But on Wednesday, what Cruz might have thought was a savvy political play took an alarming turn: Supporters of President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were considering Cruz’s objection. Three people suffered medical emergencies during the siege and died; their deaths were in addition to another woman who was shot by a Capitol police officer.

Cruz denounced the violence but incurred a fierce backlash from critics in both parties, who said his drive to question the election results — and appease the president and his supporters ahead of a possible 2024 run — helped fan the flames of anger among Trump supporters. Prominent Texas Democrats called for him to resign. Many others suggested he’d played an inciting role in one of the darkest days in modern American history.

Politically, it was a high-stakes distillation of GOP tactics in the era of Trump.

“His challenge of the Electoral College votes helps him among core Trump supporters but risks further damaging his political standing among rank-and-file Republicans like moderates and suburban swing voters who have traditionally formed a stable winning coalition for Republicans in Texas and nationally,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, who added, “Siding with Trump is risky.”

Few people can pull of smarm and condescension at such a high level, but Cruz makes it look easy. The political environment was very favorable to Democrats in 2018 in large part because of anger against Donald Trump – and, it would seem, his absence on the ballot – and that went even further in the Senate race, where Cruz and his extreme unlikability took it the extra mile. Maybe a better politician, or at least someone who more closely resembles a normal human being, could get that to simmer down over time, but Cruz never misses a beat. He’s cast his lot with the Trumper deplorables, and maybe that’s his best bet to get an edge in the 2024 GOP presidential primary. All I know is, the more people who are sick of his shit, the better. Whether he runs for President or Senate or both in 2024 (remember that legally, he can do that in Texas), I expect we’ll be able to drum up some enthusiasm against him.

Having said all that, I’m unfortunately quite ambivalent about any effort to get him expelled from the Senate. I’ve no doubt that plenty of his Republican colleagues in the Senate also despise him, but voting to boot him out, which will take a non-trivial number of Republicans to happen, is a heavy lift. Just the act of putting a partisan target on his back like that will force some of them to defend him, and that’s the last thing we want to do. Chuck Schumer takes over as Senate Majority Leader on January 22, two days into the Biden administration. There’s a ton of vital stuff that needs to happen right away, from COVID relief to voting rights and much more, and the last thing we’re going to need is a sideshow. And look, as much as I’d love to see Cruz get the heave-ho, even if it did happen Greg Abbott would get to appoint his replacement, who almost by definition will be able to work better with his Republican mates. Where’s the upside in that? Let him stay where he’s mostly going to be ineffective and might help keep his caucus divided.

Now, Ken Paxton, on the other hand…

Best mugshot ever

On Wednesday morning, Ken Paxton stood in front of a roaring crowd, reminding a sea of President Donald Trump’s supporters that the president “is a fighter” and his backers must be, too.

“We’re here. We will not quit fighting,” he said, slamming Republican officials in Georgia who have stood by President-elect Joe Biden’s victory there. “We are Texans, we are Americans, and we’re not quitting.”

But by the evening — after members of the crowd he had invited to Washington, D.C., stirred up with false claims about election fraud, resorted to violence, smashing windows and scaling walls to breach the nation’s Capitol in a mob that forced members of Congress to flee and left at least one woman dead — he had claimed they were not his ilk at all.

“These are not Trump supporters,” he falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook, citing incorrect reports that the pro-Trump mob that invaded the Capitol had been infiltrated by liberal antifa activists.

[…]

On Thursday, Grand Prairie state Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, called for an investigation into Paxton’s role in Wednesday’s riot, leaving the door open to curbing the power of his office, restricting its budget, even censure and impeachment.

“From filing a fraudulent lawsuit that fueled unhinged conspiracy theories about a free and fair election, to egging on the crowd of insurrectionists in Washington, D.C., Paxton has played a major role in creating the national crisis that culminated with the first breach of our nation’s capital since the War of 1812,” Turner said. “Even today, Paxton has used social media to spread lies about yesterday’s acts of violence and insurrection.”

In December, Paxton’s support for Trump took the form of a widely panned, and ultimately rejected, lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to toss the election results in four battleground states that had handed the White House to Joe Biden. The lawsuit leaned on discredited claims of election fraud in the battleground states.

Paxton finds himself in a precarious political position, even before Wednesday’s disastrous events. Since October, he has been embroiled in a scandal after eight of his top aides in the attorney general’s office told authorities they believed he was breaking the law by doing a series of favors for a political donor.

Texas Republicans — many of whom stayed quiet for the past five years as Paxton battled felony securities fraud charges — came forward to express their disapproval. Some fellow conservatives, including his former top aide U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, have called for his resignation. An FBI investigation into Paxton’s conduct is reportedly moving ahead full-throttle, and in the meantime, the fresh criminal allegations are poised to impose tens of millions of dollars in costs to his constituents: Texas taxpayers.

Paxton has been in hot water before, and often escaped it only to climb higher politically, galvanizing support from the Republican party’s right flank. He alienated some with a long shot run for Texas House speaker, then got elected to the state Senate. He has characterized long-running felony securities fraud charges as a political witch hunt, much as Trump did in Washington.

Still, Paxton may have fewer defenders now than ever before.

At a low point in his rollercoaster political career, Paxton is betting on the Trump base to bring him back up the hill, lending the legitimacy of office to debunked claims that have motivated violence.

Here, I think the calculus is a little different. Opposing Paxton’s need for need for millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees should be easy enough, and will provide a test as to whether his wings can get clipped a bit. I don’t expect much more than that, for the same reason I don’t expect even the biggest Cruz-hating Republicans in the Senate to support a motion to expel him, but we can certainly make him more toxic, and harder for his buddies to defend. Paxton had the second-worst showing in 2018, right behind Ted Cruz, and I think it’s fair to say that patience is a little thin for him. Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and the rest have to consider the possibility that Paxton and his FBI investigation – even if Trump swoops in with a pardon – will be a burden on them in 2022. I’m sure they believe they’ll be re-elected anyway, but who needs the headache?

What they do about it is less clear. They could support a primary challenger – more likely, they’d just not get in a challenger’s way – or they could just avoid talking about Paxton as much as possible. Or they can just grit their teeth and stand by their man. I’m not listing the “quietly push him to not run for re-election” option, because I think it’s pretty clear that’s not going to work. So what we need to do is help keep the spotlight on our felonious and insurrectionist AG. There’s a petition to sign that calls for his resignation or impeachment, if you’re the petition-signing type. But mostly, just make sure everyone that you know also knows what a terrible person he is. We’re going to have to throw him out the old-fashioned way, so we’d better get to work on it.

Another way Ken Paxton is costing you money

He’s something else, this guy.

Best mugshot ever

Texas may pay tens of millions of dollars to outside attorneys hired to handle a major lawsuit against Google — money the state did not plan to spend before a scandal enveloped Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this fall.

That’s under agreements signed last month with outside lawyers based in Chicago, Houston and Washington, D.C., including high-profile plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Lanier and the law firm Keller Lenkner, who will lead Texas’ multi-state antitrust lawsuit against Google.

The lawsuit came out of a Texas-led investigation launched more than a year ago. But until fall 2020, top agency staff intended to handle the case internally, instead of paying costly outside lawyers, a former senior Paxton aide told The Texas Tribune. The Associated Press first reported the timeline on Tuesday.

Jeff Mateer, who led the attorney general’s office for years as Paxton’s top deputy, said that when he resigned in October, the agency had no intention of hiring outside lawyers. Darren McCarty, another senior attorney, was leading an internal team on the case.

“Darren was more than able to do it,” Mateer told the AP.

But Mateer and McCarty were among the eight whistleblowers who left the agency after telling law enforcement they believed Paxton broke the law by doing favors for a political donor. Both resigned last fall, part of a notable exodus of the agency’s top staff.

The whistleblowers’ allegations have reportedly sparked an FBI investigation, but Paxton has insisted that the agency’s work has not been interrupted by the criminal investigation of him. Still, the contracts for the Google lawyers are an early indication of what cost taxpayers may bear for the latest drama surrounding Texas’ embattled attorney general.

The attorney general’s office will ask the Legislature for $43 million to pay the outside lawyers, according to a contract obtained by The Texas Tribune. If lawmakers do not grant that money — which may be a tall order during what’s expected to be a tight budget debate — the outside attorneys will be paid solely out of whatever monetary damages are recovered from Google, dollars that would have otherwise flowed into state coffers.

[…]

The expensive outside counsel contracts were inked in December, the same day the case was filed in federal court. The law firms were brought on only after the agency staff leading the probe fled the attorney general’s office in the wake of a fresh Paxton scandal.

Lanier told the Tribune he met with Paxton in Austin in November to discuss the possibility of working on the case, and emphasized that his team’s work was not intended to be “a big financial bonanza for the Lanier firm,” but rather to force a major restructuring of Google.

Lanier has given political contributions to Paxton, among a number of other top Texas officials.

The case, which comes alongside a number of other major government lawsuits against Google and other tech giants, takes aim at the company’s advertising practices.

Though it’s not yet clear exactly how much Texas could end up losing to the outside attorneys, it could be a massive figure. The outside lawyers’ contingency fee will either be based on an hourly rate equation — which could net the most senior attorneys as much as $3780 per hour — or be calculated as a percentage of the total Google settlement, whichever is less.

See here for the last update on the latest Paxton scandal. I will try, at least for a moment, to be as objective as I can about this. Paying the fee up front is a hedge against having to cough up a much larger amount of a hypothetical future award or settlement agreement, not to mention the time and effort it will surely take to haggle over the proper cut of said award. Lawyers cost money, this is going to run into some bucks no matter how you slice it, may as well get some certainty.

On the other hand:

1) The plaintiffs may lose this lawsuit, or have it overturned or any award reduced on appeal. We’d also be splitting any award a couple dozen ways, so it would have to be pretty freaking big for the attorneys’ cut to be more than $43 million.

2) Any future award is just that, in the future, likely years in the future. $43 million bucks now is worth more than an equivalent amount in, say, 2027. This is why Lottery winners who get the up-front payout instead of the over-20-years payout get a lot less than the stated prize amount.

3) Not to put too fine a point on it, but we don’t have an extra $43 million lying around right now. Yeah, sure, Rainy Day Fund yadda yadda yadda, but we know how that works. And yeah, $43 million is couch money compared to the real budget, but what would you rather spend it on this biennium – Ken Paxton’s fancy outside attorneys, or vaccines and the people to administer them? I know where my money would go.

4) Again not to nitpick, but if Ken Paxton hadn’t been a fucking awful Attorney General, we wouldn’t be in this predicament right now. He drove off the senior staff who could have handled this in house. Every dollar that Texas loses out on as a result of this, either up front or down the line, is his fault.

So yeah, I’m a big No on paying the outside attorneys at this time. I’ll roll the dice on the future award being either sufficiently small that the contingency fee is a bargain compared to the $43 million, or so freaking enormous that who cares if the Lanier firm makes out like bandits. And maybe, just maybe, we can get a new Attorney General in 2022 and we can hire another good senior staff, and maybe take the case back from the outsiders. I’ll be very, very interested to see what the Republicans in the Legislature make of this.

PAC to boot Paxton formed

No time like the present to start the fight against America’s worst AG.

Thursday, the Boot Texas Republicans Political Action Committee launched a campaign that is dead set on kicking Paxton out of office. Treasurer Zack Malitz said the PAC is raising money to aid Democratic efforts against the attorney general when he’s up for reelection in 2022.

“Someone who is corrupt and criminal should not be the top law enforcement official in Texas — at a basic level,” said Malitz, who also served as former Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s statewide field director during the 2018 U.S. Senate race.

[…]

The Boot Texas Republicans PAC will set up sturdy campaign infrastructure for future candidates running statewide, Malitz said. It will be a data-driven operation aiming to create small-dollar fundraising and volunteer bases for whoever Paxton’s Democratic opponent will be.

On top of Paxton’s legal woes, the attorney general failed his constituents when he tried to block local public health regulations in El Paso during the COVID-19 crisis, Malitz said.

Paxton isn’t focused on his basic duty of serving his Texas constituents, he added.

“Of course, [Paxton] is unfit to serve, given the legal problems that he’s facing,” Malitz said.

The Boot Paxton campaign won’t be taking a position in terms of backing a particular candidate during the primaries, Malitz said. Rather, the PAC is focused on a general election effort and will put all its support behind whoever the eventual nominee is.

Malitz is also the founder of the Beat Abbott PAC that was set up in July. The basic idea is to do some fundraising now, to help the future candidate later. As we know, Joe Jaworski is in for AG, and I feel confident he’ll have some company in the primary. It’s hard to know right now what the 2022 environment is going to look like, but there’s no reason not to prepare for 2022 as if we can win. This is a good start. The Current has more.

Ken Paxton’s attempted jihad against Harris County

Wow.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton tried to get the Trump administration to revoke millions in federal COVID relief funding that Harris County budgeted for expanding mail-in voting earlier this year, newly revealed records show.

Paxton wrote in a May 21 letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that Harris County’s plan was an “abuse” of the county’s authority and an “egregious” violation of state law. The letter was obtained and published by the Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“We respectfully ask the department to scrutinize its award of CARES Act funding to Harris County in light of the county’s stated intent to use federal funding in violation of state law, and to the extent possible, seek return of any amounts improperly spent on efforts to promote illegal mail-in voting,” Paxton wrote. “Without implementing adequate protections against unlawful abuse of mail-in ballots, the department could be cast in a position of involuntarily facilitating election fraud.”

The letter to Mnuchin illustrates the lengths Paxton went in his efforts to stop Harris and other counties from making it easier to vote by mail during the pandemic, which included suing Harris County as it tried to send mail ballots applications to all 2.4 million of its registered voters. The mail-ballot application push was part of the county’s $27.2 million plan to expand voting options, funded in large part through CARES Act money.

[…]

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Mnuchin heeded Paxton’s request to investigate how Harris County used the funding.

In a written statement, County Judge Lina Hidalgo said that the loss of the funds “would have knocked the floor out of our citizens’ ability to vote safely” during an important election held in the middle of a global pandemic.

“This attempt to cut off emergency federal funding for fellow Texans is indefensible,” she said. “To do so in secret is truly a shame and I’m relieved this is now out in the open.”

Members of the Texas Democratic Party accused the attorney general of “picking fights” to distract from his personal life.

“In the middle of the biggest pandemic in American history, every Texan should have been afforded the opportunity to vote as safely as possible. Indicted Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton continues to try to pick fights to distract away from his personal life and his abuse of office. Paxton is a carnival barker who has made Texas a laughingstock with his ridiculous inquiries and lawsuits. To restore trust in the Attorney General’s office, we must all band together to vote him and his abuse of power out in 2022.”

I suppose if there’s one thing that the year 2020 has been good for, it’s to serve as a reminder to me that I am still capable of being shocked. I can’t say that I’m surprised, because it was clear from the beginning that then-County Clerk Chris Hollins’ aggressive efforts to make voting easier, ably funded by Commissioners Court, were going to draw a heated response. I guess I had just assumed that the lawsuits filed by Paxton and others against the various things that Hollins pioneered were the response, with bills filed in the 2021 Legislature the culmination, but I had not expected this.

It is interesting that Paxton chose to fire this particular shot in secret. We would have found out about it at the time if he had succeeded, of course, but it’s strangely out of character for Paxton to do something like this under cover of darkness. Say what you will about Ken Paxton, the man does not lack confidence in the correctness of his positions. I don’t know what his motivation was for not being front and center about this – I mean, we saw the lawsuit he filed to overturn the election. Shame, or fear of being publicly dragged, are not inhibitions for him. Maybe he was afraid of spooking Secretary Mnuchin, who is generally less cartoon-y in his villainy. I’m open to suggestion on this point.

The story mentions that this letter came from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which led me to this:

CREW obtained Paxton’s letter to Mnuchin as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Treasury Department, which remains ongoing.

The lawsuit in question is over the appointment of Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General. We might never have found out about this scurrilous and cowardly action otherwise.

I was going to spend more time in this post pointing out that Paxton’s allegations were 1) essentially baseless, and 2) should have been made in a lawsuit, as this would have fallen squarely under his law enforcement authority if Harris County were indeed breaking the law as he claimed, but honestly that CREW article laid it out thoroughly, so go read that for those details. The main takeaway here is that this wasn’t just a partisan dispute, which could and should have been carried out in public as so many other mostly ginned-up voting “controversies” this year were, it was 100% unadulterated bullshit from our despicable Attorney General. He’s not feeling any pressure to step down from his fellow Republicans, and do brace yourself for a pardon from our Felon in Chief, so it really is up to us to vote his sorry ass out in 2022. The Texas Tribune has more.

You’d think with all that voter fraud out there, they could actually find some

So much effort, so little to show for it.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas Attorney General’s office this year almost doubled the amount of time it spent looking into and working on voter fraud cases in 2018 — more than 22,000 staff hours — yet resolved just 16 prosecutions, half as many as in 2018, records show.

All 16 cases involved Harris County residents who gave false addresses on their voter registration forms. None of them received any jail time.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has made the hunt for voter fraud a top priority of his office, between January and October gave the election integrity unit access to eight additional law enforcement sergeants on top of the nine already assigned to it, and doubled the number of prosecutors to four, according to records obtained from the agency by nonprofit government watchdog American Oversight and shared with Hearst Newspapers.

In its 15 years of its existence, the unit has prosecuted a few dozen cases in which offenders received jail time, none of them involving widespread fraud.

[…]

The low number of prosecutions resolved this year in contrast with the hours worked shines light on a core disagreement between Paxton and voting rights advocates: Is the low prosecution rate a cause or effect? Does it signify that few cases exist or that more resources are needed to find the cases presumed to be lurking undetected?

Paxton did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but in a taped interview with the conservative-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation in September, he explained why he believes the number of cases does not represent the scope of the issue.

“It just takes a lot of effort to take it through the entire process. So you’re never going to see thousands of cases coming out of an office that has three prosecutors, and we probably have more than most states,” Paxton said. “It’s limited to what we can do, but we try to send the message with what we do and the fact that we’re investigating well over 100 cases right now, that we take this seriously, and we’re going to do our best. You may be the unfortunate one we catch.”

University of Texas election law professor Joseph Fishkin said there could be another explanation.

“This is not the only voter fraud effort to pour in a lot of resources and end up with a relatively small number of cases found,” Fishkin said, referring to the Trump Administration’s voting integrity commission, which disbanded in 2018 after finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud. “Finding very few defendants, even if they can charge some with multiple offenses, is consistent with the possibility that there just isn’t that much fraud to prosecute.”

It’s also possible that Paxton, like Greg Abbott before him, is just really incompetent at his job, which in this case would provide counter-evidence to the belief that it takes a crook to catch a crook.

Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program, said investing in a program that has not uncovered widespread fraud speaks to Paxton’s priorities.

“How many resources are they going to spend to try to put political wins on the board?” Pérez said. “No one is saying that there’s never mistakes or that fraud never happens. People are saying it’s extraordinarily rare; study after study demonstrates that that’s the case.”

Pérez added that the attorney general’s office tends to try to make examples out of voters who made mistakes and isn’t finding the organized election fraud that Paxton claims to be guarding against.

For example, Crystal Mason is a 45-year-old Fort Worth woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 presidential election — one that was never counted — while on supervised release for a federal conviction. She has said she did not know she was ineligible to vote. At the end of November, her lawyers filed a petition to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to review her case and acquit her of the illegal voting charge.

“Crystal Mason got more time than that ‘affluenza’ kid,” she said, referring to a Texas man who got no jail time after claiming in court that his wealthy upbringing clouded his sense of right and wrong during his trial for killing four people while driving drunk. “It’s really hard to say who you’re protecting people from.”

He’s trying to protect Republicans from the scourge of Democratic voting. That much is clear.

Look, in a sense this is all just hunting for Bigfoot. The fact that we’ve spent all this time and money trying to find Bigfoot without ever finding any evidence of Bigfoot doesn’t mean that Bigfoot doesn’t exist, it just means we’re not looking hard enough. Alternately, one can claim that all this time and money being spent on Bigfoot hunting is the only thing that’s keeping us safe from rampaging Bigfoot massacres, because if we weren’t out there so publicly hunting for Bigfoot, then Bigfoot would get all emboldened and run amok in the community. And we wouldn’t want to send the message that we’re soft on Bigfoot, now would we?

A closer look at the Aguirre/Hotze debacle

This WaPo story was pointed out in the comments here, and it’s worth your time to read. I should note that while the Houston Chronicle has not (at least so far) identified the air conditioning repairman that Aguirre attacked, this story did identify and talk to him. For now, I’m going to stick to the Chron’s style guide, so where the WaPo story includes his name, I’m going to put “[the ACRM]” in my excerpt, to stand for “the air conditioning repairman”.

The episode illustrates the extreme and sometimes dangerous tactics that a set of conservative groups have employed in an effort to substantiate President Trump’s unproven allegations of widespread voting fraud in the election. Theories about truckloads of missing mail-in ballots, manipulated voting machines and illegal mail-in ballot collections have abounded in far-right circles, despite a lack of credible evidence, leading to threats of violence against election workers and officials.

Many of the fraud allegations have come in the form of lawsuits that have been rejected by state and federal judges across the country.

The overall effort in Houston stands out because it relied on an expensive, around-the-clock surveillance operation that, for reasons so far unknown publicly, targeted a civilian — authorities called him “an innocent and ordinary air conditioner repairman” — with no apparent role in government or election administration. The operation was also financed by a newly formed nonprofit group run by a well-known GOP donor in Texas and prominent former party officials in Harris County, the state’s most populous county, corporation records show.

The nonprofit group, the Liberty Center for God and Country, paid 20 private investigators close to $300,000 to conduct a six-week probe of alleged illegal ballot retrievals in Houston leading up to the election, the group has said. None of its allegations of fraud have been substantiated.

The group’s president, Steven F. Hotze, did not respond to an interview request.

Aguirre declined to say why the operation focused on [the ACRM].

“I’m not trying my case in the paper,” Aguirre, who was released on $30,000 bail, told The Post in a brief phone interview on Dec. 16. “I don’t care about public opinion. I’m trying my case against these corrupt sons of [expletives].”

The origins of Aguirre’s election fraud investigation date to the formation of the Liberty Center for God and Country in late August.

[…]

Hotze’s nonprofit group was created “for the purpose of ensuring election integrity primarily,” said Jared Woodfill, Hotze’s personal lawyer and the former executive director of the Harris County Republican Party, the county that includes Houston. Woodfill is listed on state incorporation records as a director of the nonprofit group, along with Jeffrey Yates, the former longtime chairman of the county’s Republican Party. Yates did not respond to phone messages.

“The socialist Democrat leadership in Harris County has developed a massive ballot by mail vote harvesting scheme to steal the general election,” a now-deleted fundraising page for the group alleged. “We are working with a group of private investigators who have uncovered this massive election fraud scheme.”

The group raised nearly $70,000 through a GoFundMe page from Oct. 10 through last week. Hotze has said publicly that he donated $75,000 to the probe and that an unnamed individual had donated another $125,000.

Hotze turned to Aguirre to assemble a team of 20 private investigators, according to Aguirre’s attorney, Terry Yates, who is not related to Jeffrey Yates.

“Mark would say he’s the guy who was in charge,” Terry Yates told The Post.

I’m not going to try to guess what might be going on in Steven Hotze’s whack-a-mole brain, but I do want to understand why these jokers came to focus on this one poor guy. There had to be some reason for it, however irrational and ultimately wrong-headed. If nothing else, the attorney that eventually files a massive lawsuit against Hotze for the pain and suffering our ACRM endured will want to know the full story.

In September, Aguirre wrote an affidavit for a lawsuit brought by Hotze and the Harris County GOP before the Texas Supreme Court seeking to curtail early and mail-in voting. The affidavit alleged Democrats had devised a scheme to submit as many as 700,000 fraudulent ballots in Harris County. The Texas Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit on Oct. 7.

Nevertheless, law enforcement officials in Harris County began looking into the claims in the affidavit. The affidavit did not mention [the ACRM], but described what it contended was a broader ballot-harvesting effort directed by local Democratic officials.

Four investigators from the Harris County Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, which is responsible for investigating voter integrity issues, were assigned to the investigation, an official said.

“We looked into the allegations,” said Constable Alan Rosen, who said investigators conducted interviews with various people but got no cooperation from Aguirre and other private investigators. “We wanted to investigate their side of the story and they wouldn’t talk to us.”

“No proof was ever substantiated,” according to Rosen.

As the Nov. 3 Election Day neared, Aguirre and other unidentified private investigators began to monitor [the ACRM] more closely, court records show. By mid-October, they had devised a plan to carry out extensive monitoring that kept eyes on the air conditioning repairman day and night, court records show.

Beginning around Oct. 15, the investigators started “24 hour surveillance” on [the ACRM]’s mobile home, a police affidavit states. They set up a “command post” nearby, renting two hotel rooms for four days in a Marriott hotel, according to the affidavit. As they watched [the ACRM], Aguirre unsuccessfully tried to convince law enforcement authorities at the state level that he was on to something big, according to several law enforcement agencies and court records.

On Oct. 16, Aguirre called a member of the state attorney general’s election task force, Lt. Wayne Rubio, to request that Rubio order a traffic stop of [the ACRM]’s vehicle, court records show. Rubio declined. Aguirre “seemed upset that the Department of Public Safety could not stop and detain an individual based solely on [Aguirre]’s uncorroborated accusations,” Rubio later told police, according to the affidavit.

Aguirre told Rubio that he would make the traffic stop and execute a “citizen’s arrest,” the affidavit states. Rubio did not respond to interview requests, and the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

Aguirre also contacted Jason Taylor, a regional director at a separate statewide law enforcement agency — the Texas Department of Public Safety — the agency said in a statement to The Post. That contact came a day before Aguirre is accused of ramming [the ACRM].

“Mr. Aguirre brought up the allegations of election fraud during a phone call on Oct. 18, 2020, with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Regional Director,” a spokesman wrote. “Based on that call, the matter was then discussed with the (DPS) Texas Ranger Division. The decision was then made to refer Mr. Aguirre to the Office of the Texas Attorney General.”

Aguirre later told police he was frustrated that he had “not received any help” from law enforcement agencies, according to the police affidavit.

So many questions here. What evidence did Aguirre present to DPS and the AG task force? Clearly, it was pitiful, because had there been anything at all to the juicy allegation of Democrats engaging in massive fraud, these guys would have been all over it, but that’s not the whole picture. The bigger question is, should Aguirre’s delusions have given these guys cause to worry about his actions and the potential danger to the ACRM? Did they take his threat of a “citizen’s arrest” seriously, and if not why not? Imagine for a minute if our ACRM had had a concealed carry license, and had made the determination when he saw Aguirre approach him that his life was in danger (which, as it happens, it was) and he needed to defend himself. Or instead imagine if Aguirre had gotten jumpy and made the same decision for himself. This “citizen’s arrest” could very well have had a body count, which is why I ask, should the law enforcement officers that Aguirre complained were unwilling to help him have taken action against him instead? It’s more grist for our ACRM’s future attorney, I suppose.

Police later reviewed grand jury subpoena records from Aguirre’s bank, the police affidavit states, and saw wire transfers of nearly $270,000 to his account from the Liberty Center for God and Country with payments of $25,000 each wired on Sept. 22 and Oct. 9, and $211,400 deposited the day after the alleged assault.

Houston police declined an interview request and said they would not answer specific questions about the case because the department’s investigation is ongoing.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which charged Aguirre after a grand jury indictment, also declined to answer questions. “This is an active, ongoing investigation,” spokesman Michael Kolenc wrote in an email.

As I said before, I really hope that this ongoing investigation includes Hotze and the malevolent organization he spawned to finance this travesty. I sure won’t be surprised to learn that they were not scrupulous in following the law prior to Aguirre’s attack on the ACRM. Don’t be afraid to go where the evidence leads.

TDP asks SCOTUS to review age discrimination claim in mail voting

From the inbox:

Today, the Texas Democratic Party and voters filed their final brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking its review of the case filed last Spring which challenged the constitutionality of Texas’s law that limits voting by mail, without excuse, to voters age 65 and older. The 26th Amendment prohibits “denying or abridging” the right to vote based on age, which Texas law does. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in September that so long as all voters can vote in person, it does not abridge the right to vote if the state provides some voters with additional voting options. The Texas Democratic Party and voters argue this ruling runs contrary to the 26th Amendment and is inconsistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to confer regarding this case on January 8, 2021. On January 11, 2021, at 10:00 am ET, the Court will issue its orders list for the 2021 term. At that point, the Court may grant review of the case, deny review, or hold the case over for further consideration at a later time. If the Court grants review, the case could be heard this term, with a decision before Summer or it could decide to hear the case in its term beginning Fall of 2021. If the court denies review of the case, it will return to the U.S. District Court in San Antonio, where it will proceed to the final trial and, thereafter, potentially go back through the appeals process.

See here for my last update on this case, and here for a copy of the filing, which in fancy lawyer-speak is a “petition for a writ of certiori”. SCOTUSblog has a concise summary of the case so far. The brief makes three arguments, of which the first two are technical and boring to non-lawyers, but the third is a straightforward claim that the Fifth Circuit erred in its ruling:

The error in the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning was powerfully illustrated by the statement respondents’ counsel made at oral argument: “[I]f a state were to pass a law saying that White people must vote by personal appearance but Black people can vote by personal appearance or by mail-in balloting, …. the Fifteenth Amendment would not prohibit that law because that law does not deny or abridge the right to vote within the meaning of the Fifteenth Amendment.” Or. Arg. Rec. at 41:27-42:07. To state that position is to show its indefensibility.

1. The Fifth Circuit treated “abridge” as solely a temporal restriction: In its view, a state’s law does not “abridge” the right to vote when it adds voting opportunities for some, so long as one manner of voting remains in place for those not given the new voting opportunity. See BIO App. 38a. That holding is inconsistent with this Court’s precedents that the concept of abridgement “necessarily entails a comparison” of “what the right to vote ought to be.” Reno v. Bossier Par. Sch. Bd., 528 U.S. 320, 334 (2000).

Contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s arid resort to dictionary definitions of “abridgment,” BIO App. 33a34a, the proper baseline under the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments is given in the text of those amendments themselves. Those amendments provide that the right to vote shall not be abridged “on account of” or “by reason of” specific characteristics: “race,” “sex,” taxpaying status, or “age.” By their plain terms, those amendments call for a comparison between the law’s treatment of voters of different races, sexes, taxpaying statuses, or ages—not between the scope of the right a particular voter enjoyed yesterday and the scope of the right he or she enjoys today. It cannot be that the Fifteenth Amendment would have nothing to say if a jurisdiction gave white voters an early voting period, as long as it left untouched a preexisting ability for Black voters to cast a ballot in person on election day. But that perverse consequence is exactly what the Fifth Circuit’s logic commands.

The reason why the voting amendments use the word “abridge” is not to create a temporal comparison, but to make clear that any race-, sex-, taxpaying-, or age-based suffrage rule, and not only categorical denial of the right to vote, is covered. The Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, illustrates this point. While Section 5, the provision at issue in Bossier Parish involved a statute with language explicitly requiring a temporal comparison, Section 2 echoes the Fifteenth Amendment text and requires an inter-voter comparison. Section 2(a) prohibits practices that result “in a denial or abridgement” of the right to vote on account of race or color or membership in a specified language minority. 52 U.S.C. § 10301(a). Section 2(b) declares that a violation of that prohibition occurs, among other things, when the plaintiff group has “less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.” 52 U.S.C. § 10301(b) (emphasis added). That understanding of abridgment is also, as the petition explains, more consistent with this Court’s decision in Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528 (1965). See Pet. 20-22.

Basically, the Fifth Circuit said that giving one set of voters (in this case, voters over the age of 65) something extra (no-excuses absentee ballots) was fine and not a form of discrimination against other voters, who were still able to vote. The TDP argues that the correct interpretation of the 26th and other amendments to the constitution is that not giving the under-65 voters the same benefit as the 65-and-older crowd is an abridgement of their rights, and thus unconstitutional. I think the plaintiffs have a solid argument, but as we know I Am Not A Lawyer, and also this particular Supreme Court is nobody’s friend when it comes to voting rights. We’ll know in January if we’ll get a short-term resolution or if this goes back to the trial court for a do-over.

Paxton denies whistleblower allegations

Pretty standard response.

Best mugshot ever

The Texas attorney general’s office will pay outside counsel $540 an hour to defend the state agency against accusations that it was retaliating against top aides when it fired them just weeks after they reported their boss, Ken Paxton, to authorities for possibly breaking the law.

William Helfand, a Houston attorney with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, will make $540 per hour for his work on the case while an associate attorney and a paralegal will make $350 and $215 per hour, respectively, according to a contract with the agency.

They filed the agency’s first official response Monday to a lawsuit filed by four of eight whistleblowers who left the agency after leveling the accusations. Paxton’s attorneys roundly rejected pages and pages of allegations of wrongdoing and retaliation in just a few brief sentences.

The agency “generally denies each and every claim and allegation” made by the whistleblowers, attorneys for the state wrote in the brief filing.

“Any action Plaintiffs allege to be an adverse employment action was the result of each Plaintiff’s own misconduct, lack of competence, and/or disloyalty to the Office,” the outside attorneys for the agency wrote.

Paxton is reportedly being investigated by the FBI over the allegations raised by the aides.

Separately, he has been under indictment since 2015 on felony securities fraud charges but has yet to stand trial amid side issues over venue and prosecutor pay. Notably, his defense team and political allies have loudly objected to the special prosecutors in the case making $300 per hour — far lower than the pay scale for the outside attorneys in the whistleblower case.

That point was not lost on Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutors, who said it was “ludicrous for Paxton to believe that a seven-year attorney, not to mention a paralegal, should be paid more for defending him than two lawyers with over 80 years of combined experience should be paid for prosecuting him.”

“And it is outrageous that the taxpayers of Texas will be obligated to pay the legal fees for defending Paxton’s alleged misconduct that has reportedly triggered an FBI investigation,” Wice added.

See here and here for some background. Even I recognize this as Basic Lawyering 101, nothing new or unusual to see here. Where it gets exciting is in discovery, where Paxton will have to start coughing up some documents. As for how much the defense attorneys are being paid, as a theoretical matter the office of Attorney General deserves competent representation in matters like this. But the same is very much true for the special prosecutors, who have had to deal with a huge amount of political interference on Paxton’s behalf just to get paid. Surely if Paxton’s defense attorneys are worth that kind of fee, then we ought to see Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer as relative bargains. At least if Paxton does eventually get busted by the FBI, it’ll be the feds paying for that trial. In this case, we know Ken Paxton is going to raise money off of his latest legal travails. If the plaintiffs win, he can damn well kick in some of that loot to pay for the defense of his misdeeds.

Now we wait on SCOTUS

The state of Texas filed its reply to the defendants’ responses to its democracykilling lawsuit, and, well, it’s something.

Best mugshot ever

This brings us the Texas AG Ken Paxton’s reply–or, rather, replies, as there are multiple filings, including a motion to enlarge the word-count limit, a supplemental declaration dated today from Charles Cicchetti, and a new affidavit prepared yesterday from one Lisa Gage.

The first reply brief focuses on rebutting the factual and legal claims made by the four defendant states. The brief starts with the facts, and AG Paxton’s choice of emphasis here is quite interesting, as the brief leads with an extended defense of statistical stupidity contained in the initial filing and the Cicchetti declaration (hence the newly drafted supplemental declaration which is attached). Here, the Paxton brief argues “Dr. Cicchetti did take into account the possibility that votes were not randomly drawn in the later time period but, as stated in his original Declaration, he is not aware of any data that would support such an assertion.” In other words, because he does not know anything about the two sets of voters, it was okay to assume they were identical for purposes of assessing the statistical likelihood that they would vote differently. That this is the lead argument in the reply tells you most of what you need to know. (Well, perhaps not, as other parts of the factual discussion misrepresent claims made by defendant states or repeat claims that were considered and rejected in other suits over the past month.)

On the law, the Texas reply essentially argues that the handful of attorneys in the Texas AG’s office who were willing to sign on to the brief know more about the election laws of Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania than do the Attorneys General and Secretaries of State of those various states. It further argues that although state legislatures have “plenary” authority to set the manner in which states select electors, this somehow does not include the authority to authorize the involvement of courts and election agencies, and that the U.S. Supreme Court, not the supreme courts of the respective states, should be the final authority on the meaning of relevant state laws and constitutional provisions. (Yay federalism!)

The other Texas filing, styled as a reply in support of Texas’s plea for emergency injunctive relief, is not much better. It does, however, deploy a powerful use of capitalization in the Table of Contents (“Texas IS likely to prevail”). Note that Texas does not have to worry about any of the defendant states responding in kind (“Texas IS NOT likely to prevail”) because this is the last brief to be filed.

In this brief, Texas argues that it is not seeking to disenfranchise voters. Rather, Texas argues, “Defendant States’ maladministration of the 2020 election makes it impossible to know which candidate garnered the majority of lawful votes.” Of course, to the extent this were true, Supreme Court intervention would not be necessary. If the relevant state legislatures concluded that the results of the elections within their states were indeterminate–that the voters had failed to select electors on election day–they could act, but they have not. Here Texas repeats its arguments that federalism requires the Supreme Court ordering state legislatures to act and possibly even hold new elections because Texas does not like how other states have run their elections.

It’s already time for some tweets.

One possible way to avoid that outcome is for SCOTUS to shut this shit down hard.

The easy thing for the Supreme Court to do is simply deny Texas permission to file the complaint (and deny the motions to intervene as moot) and be done with it. No fuss, no muss.

But the court should do more. It is perfectly ordinary and appropriate for the justices to write an opinion explaining the various reasons why they are rejecting Texas’ request. Indeed, the minority of justices who think that the court is required to accept original actions like Texas’ may well write short opinions of their own or note that they think the case was properly filed. So there is nothing overreaching if a majority of the court explains why the case is meritless.

The justices’ decision whether to do that needs to account for this extraordinary, dangerous moment for our democracy. President Donald Trump, other supportive Republicans, and aligned commentators have firmly convinced many tens of millions of people that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. If that view continues to take hold, it threatens not only our national politics for the next four years but the public’s basic faith in elections of all types that are the foundations of our society.

A simple five-page per curiam opinion genuinely could end up in the pantheon of all-time most significant rulings in American history. Every once in a long while, the court needs to invest some of its accumulated capital in issuing judgments that are not only legally right but also respond to imminent, tangible threats to the nation. That is particularly appropriate when, as here, the court finds itself being used as a tool to actively undermine faith in our democratic institutions — including by the members of the court’s bar on whom the justices depend to act much more responsibly.

In a time that is so very deeply polarized, I cannot think of a person, group or institution other than the Supreme Court that could do better for the country right now. Supporters of the president who have been gaslighted into believing that there has been a multi-state conspiracy to steal the election recognize that the court is not a liberal institution. If the court will tell the truth, the country will listen.

I’m not so sure I share the optimism, but I agree it would be the best thing that SCOTUS could do.

More Republicans have lined up to join Paxton on his lemming suicide bomber dive, including some who are seemingly claiming their own elections are also tainted.

Maybe the most ridiculous thing about this ridiculous moment, is that among the 126 Republican House members who have signed on to a document that they know to be not just false in its content, but malicious in its intent, are 19 from states that are the subject of the suit.

So Representatives like Doug Collins and Barry Loudermilk in Georgia are arguing that their own elections were fraudulent. Except, of course, they’re not making that argument. They’re not making any argument. They’re just hoping to gain “street cred” from adding their signatures to a list of people who support Trump rather than America.

You know who else is on Team Dictatorship? Dan Crenshaw, that’s who. This Dan Crenshaw.

U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw told Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie that a woman who reported sexual assault at a VA hospital had filed frivolous complaints when she and Crenshaw served in the same Navy command, according to testimony by several senior officials in a report by the agency’s watchdog.

Investigators said they were troubled by the way Wilkie and his agency handled the outcry of the woman, who is now a Democratic aide in the House of Representatives.

The Houston Republican’s link to matter, first reported by Newsweek magazine, was included in a report released by the agency’s inspector general on Thursday. The report details a number of apparent problems with the agency’s handling of complaints filed by the veteran, Andrea Goldstein, who alleged a VA hospital contractor “bumped his entire body against mine and told me I looked like I needed a smile and a good time.”

[…]

Senior VA officials told investigators that Crenshaw passed along information about Goldstein to Wilkie, the report says, which both Crenshaw and Wilkie have denied.

The report points to an email Wilkie sent Chief of Staff Pamela Powers and Brooks Tucker, assistant secretary congressional and legislative affairs, after a fundraiser that he and Crenshaw both attended. It said: “Ask me in the morning what Congressman Crenshaw said about the Takano staffer whose glamor (sic) shot was in the New York Times.”

While Wilkie told investigators that Crenshaw approached him at the December 2019 fundraiser and brought up the veteran, he claimed that Crenshaw merely told him they served together. When investigators asked Wilkie why that information was enough to merit the email he sent after the fundraiser, he responded, “Well, I don’t remember. I have no idea.”

Both Powers and Tucker, however, told investigators they recalled Wilkie making comments about the veteran’s reputation “based on information they understood he received from Congressman Crenshaw.”

The report also says Deputy VA Secretary Jim Byrne told investigators that Wilkie had “verified with Congressman Dan Crenshaw that the veteran had previously filed frivolous complaints when the two were serving in the same command in the Navy.”

Crenshaw and his staff refused to answer VA investigators’ questions about the matter, the report says. Crenshaw’s office did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.

The Newsweek story is here. Remember Crenshaw’s craven refusal to answer questions about this the next time he tweets some garbage about how “all cases should be heard, all investigations should be thorough”. As a reminder, the Chron endorsed Crenshaw for re-election. The Orlando Sentinel has apologized for endorsing Rep. Michael Waltz, one of Crenshaw’s fellow members of the Sedition Caucus. I await the Chron taking similar action; merely excoriating Ken Paxton and Ted Cruz, without even mentioning Crenshaw for his role in this debacle, is insufficient.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock has observed, as part of his own amicus filing against the Paxton mess, that Texas did not include his state as a defendant even though Montana made the same kind of changes that Georgia et al did that Paxton finds so objectionable. Of course, Trump carried Montana, so it’s totally different. Governor Bullock also knows how to bring the snark:

SCOTUS may act on the Texas case even before I finish drafting this post, so let me wrap up while the outcome is still unknown. First, a few words from Adam Serwer about why Trump has so many rats following behind his rancid Pied Piper act:

To Trump’s strongest supporters, Biden’s win is a fraud because his voters should not count to begin with, and because the Democratic Party is not a legitimate political institution that should be allowed to wield power even if they did.

This is why the authoritarian remedies festering in the Trump fever swamps—martial law, the usurpation of state electors, Supreme Court fiat—are so openly contemplated. Because the true will of the people is that Trump remain president, forcing that outcome, even in the face of defeat, is a fulfillment of democracy rather than its betrayal.

The Republican base’s fundamental belief, the one that Trump used to win them over in the first place, the one that ties the election conspiracy theory to birtherism and to Trump’s sneering attack on the Squad’s citizenship, is that Democratic victories do not count, because Democratic voters are not truly American. It’s no accident that the Trump campaign’s claims have focused almost entirely on jurisdictions with high Black populations.

From Elizabeth Dye at Above the Law:

But perhaps we shouldn’t get waylaid in Constitutional and procedural niceties, lest we distract ourselves from the point that THIS IS BATSHIT. The state of Texas has filed a facially nonsensical suit purporting to vindicate the rights of the Defendant states’ legislatures from unconstitutional usurpation by overweening governors and state courts, a usurpation which supposedly violates the Elections Clause. And the proposed solution is for the Supreme Court itself to violate the Elections Clause by postponing the electoral college vote, thus usurping Congress’s power to “determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”

And instead of saying, “Slow your roll, Ken Paxton! We’ve been banging the drum about states’ rights for two hundred years now. It’s kind of our thing, you know?” the intervenor states are all in on this Frankenstein hybrid of vote dilution and anti-federalism. Rather than acknowledging the reality of Trump’s loss, these attorneys general would rather attach their names to a complaint which claims that it’s just mathematically impossible for Biden to have won those four Defendant states because, ummm, Clinton lost them. Don’t ask how Trump was able to flip Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan after Obama won them in 2012 and 2008 — that formula is still being calculated.

Never mind that Texas’s governor Greg Abbott extended early voting by a week, the same dastardly usurpation of legislative prerogative which supposedly voids the election in the Defendant states. Pay no attention to the fact that Mississippi also allows votes to be counted if they arrive within three days of the election, which Paxton argues is patently illegal. Or that Utah conducted this election entirely by mail, which is, according to the complaint anyway, prima facie evidence of intent to allow vote fraud. IOKYAR.

The Trump motion to intervene is little more than a cleaned up version of the president’s Twitter feed, drafted by John Eastman, a law professor at Chapman University who is nonetheless confused about birthright citizenship and recently penned a racist Newsweek editorial wondering if Kamala Harris was eligible to run for president.

Mentioning this John Eastman character brings us to the final tweets, because all good blog posts about election theft end with tweets. These two are embedded in that ATL article:

As noted before, Lawrence Joseph is the outside counsel Ken Paxton hired for his lawsuit, since the Solicitor General declined to come on board. Wheels within wheels, y’all.

And finally, nothing could sum up this entire experience better than this:

From the neighborhood of New Heights in the city of New Houston and the state of New Texas, I wish you all a happy weekend. CNN has more.

UPDATE: Didn’t have to wait long, as it turns out.

The US Supreme Court on Friday rejected Texas’s unprecedented last-ditch effort to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin by suing those four states in the high court.

At least a majority of the justices concluded that Texas lacked standing to bring the case at all, a threshold the state had to clear before the case could go any further.

“Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections,” the court wrote in the brief order.

No justice noted that they had dissented from the decision to knock out Texas’s case from the start. It would have taken at least five justices to agree to hear the case, but the justices don’t have to individually indicate how they voted, so there’s no way to know the vote breakdown for certain. Justice Samuel Alito Jr., joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote that they believed the court had to allow Texas to file its lawsuit, but they wouldn’t have granted any other relief that the state requested.

It was a significant loss not only for Texas, but for President Donald Trump, who had asked to intervene in the case and spent the the past two days tweeting about why the justices should effectively hand him an election that Biden won. The court denied all of the other motions filed in the case as moot once it decided Texas couldn’t bring the case at all, which ended Trump’s bid to get before the justices.

There’s plenty more stories out there – go to Google News or Trending on Twitter if you haven’t come across any others. The Electoral College meets on Monday, and after that it really is over, though one presumes the delusions will continue. I’m going to finish with some more tweets. You should go outside and enjoy the day.

Not sure how I feel about this. It’s right there in the Constitution, but it’s also overturning the will of the voters, which is what the Sedition Caucus was trying to do. I am happy to have a discussion about this, however. Let these bastards explain why they haven’t violated the Constitution.

Speaking of bastards and being in opposition to the Constitution:

Yeah, I don’t even know what to say to that. But I would very much like to know what every elected Republican thinks about it. Let’s get them all on record, shall we? Rick Hasen has more.

FBI serves subpoenas in Paxton case

Quite the timing, no?

Best mugshot ever

Federal agents served at least one subpoena Wednesday on the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in an ongoing investigation into allegations that Paxton abused his authority by helping a friend and campaign donor.

Three sources confirmed to the American-Statesman and KVUE-TV that FBI agents delivered the request for information to the agency’s headquarters on West 14th Street. The sources did not immediately know how many subpoenas were issued or what information FBI agents sought.

Federal authorities are investigating claims by former top Paxton aides that he used his position to aid Austin investor Nate Paul, whose offices were raided by the FBI last year.

FBI spokeswoman Michelle Lee said Thursday that she could not comment, and the bureau has not publicly confirmed an investigation.

Paxton said in a statement Thursday evening: “At all times, as in every matter, I ask my staff only to search for the truth, wherever it leads. That’s my responsibility as Attorney General of Texas.”

The issuance of a federal subpoena on a state agency, and especially involving the state’s top attorney, is a highly unusual move that likely would have required higher level approval from the U.S. Justice Department.

You saw the tweet, now you see the story. We’ll know more when there’s more to be known. In the meantime, Paxton is building his brand with the sedition section.

But even as the investigation deepens, Paxton’s political star looks to be rising, at least on the right. In contesting the results of the election in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, he has catapulted himself into the country’s biggest political news story — a settled election that the president continues to contest, now relying heavily on an unprecedented lawsuit that has drawn the involvement of nearly every state. On Wednesday, Paxton joined Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck to talk about the case, which conservatives have cheered; on Thursday, he joined Trump for lunch at the White House.

It wouldn’t be the first comeback for the attorney general. He managed to hold on politically after a failed bid for Texas House speaker 10 years ago. And he was reelected as attorney general in 2018 despite the felony indictment that has dogged him for years.

In fact, the long-shot election case — which has become yet another high-stakes test of loyalty to the president — has played so well for Paxton that some are accusing him of filing it for his own benefit.

“It looks like a fella begging for a pardon filed a PR stunt rather than a lawsuit — as all of its assertions have already been rejected by federal courts and Texas’ own solicitor general isn’t signing on,” U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said.

Progressive groups have eagerly made similar accusations.

A spokesperson for Paxton dismissed the pardon speculation as “an absurdly laughable conspiracy theory” and said “this lawsuit is about preserving the integrity of our elections.”

[…]

It’s not hard to imagine Paxton filing such a lawsuit even under better personal circumstances. He has made himself a staunch Trump ally who plays up their relationship in public appearances and often greets Air Force One when it touches down in Texas. The two often line up in legal fights, and Paxton is frequently the first — or at least loudest — state attorney general to support a controversial Trump move, like a ban on travel from Muslim-majority nations.

Whatever Paxton’s intentions, the lawsuit has already had helped bring him back into the good graces of some prominent conservatives, and back into the spotlight — to tout his pro-Trump message, not to defend himself against serious criminal accusations. State officials who distanced themselves from Paxton or avoided speaking about the attorney general entirely have now emerged as cheerleaders for the lawsuit.

On his radio show this week, Beck asked Paxton about criticism that the attorney general filed the lawsuit to distract from his personal political problems — or in a bid for a presidential pardon.

“Look, for six years I’ve been fighting for what I thought was right,” Paxton responded. “I’m not gonna stop just because people have assaulted me. … No matter what they accuse me of, no matter what they want to do to me — I’m here to do my job.”

He’s got the victim rhetoric down, you have to give him that. The story suggests that even if Paxton gets the pardon he’s so clearly seeking, the current investigation could be done at the state level, if the Travis County DA wanted to pick it up. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Keep your eye on the game Paxton is playing right now.

The states respond to Paxton

Now we wait for SCOTUS. I sure hope they’re quick about it.

Best mugshot ever

Each of the four battleground states targeted by a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn President Donald Trump’s election defeat issued blistering briefs at the Supreme Court on Thursday, with Pennsylvania officials going so far as to call the effort a “seditious abuse of the judicial process.”

The court filings from Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin come a day after Trump asked the Supreme Court to intervene in the lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to invalidate millions of votes in their states. The lawsuit amounts to an unprecedented request for legal intervention in an election despite there being no evidence of widespread fraud.

“Texas’s effort to get this Court to pick the next President has no basis in law or fact. The Court should not abide this seditious abuse of the judicial process, and should send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated,” wrote Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

The Texas lawsuit, Shapiro said, rested on a “surreal alternate reality.”

[…]

Despite the slate of inaccurate claims driving the lawsuit, more than 100 House Republicans signed on to an amicus brief in support of Paxton’s motion.

Notable Republican leadership names on this list include House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Gary Palmer.

“The unconstitutional irregularities involved in the 2020 presidential election cast doubt upon its outcome and the integrity of the American system of elections,” the brief said without evidence.

“Amici respectfully aver that the broad scope and impact of the various irregularities in the Defendant states necessitate careful and timely review by this Court.”

Beyond the four states subject to the Texas lawsuit, more than 20 other states and Washington, DC, also submitted an amicus brief deriding the effort and urging the high court to deny Texas’ motion.

“The Amici States have a critical interest in allowing state courts and local actors to interpret and implement state election law, and in ensuring that states retain their sovereign ability to safely and securely accommodate voters in light of emergencies such as COVID-19,” the brief said.

Shapiro’s particularly fiery brief assessed that the Texas lawsuit is “legally indefensible and is an affront to principles of constitutional democracy.”

“Nothing in the text, history, or structure of the Constitution supports Texas’s view that it can dictate the manner in which four sister States run their elections, and Texas suffered no harm because it dislikes the results in those elections.”

See here and here for the background. A copy of the court filings are at the CNN story, but the best part of the Pennsylvania filing, which uses the word “seditious”, is here. Despite the sound and fury, there’s some suggestion that even the sedition-committers know that it all signals nothing.

Six states attorneys general, led by Missouri AG Eric Schmitt, have moved to intervene in Texas v. Pennsylvania, the lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that seeks to prevent the selection of presidential electors based upon the November election results in four states (Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan). Yesterday, 17 states, also led by Missouri AG Schmitt, filed an amicus brief in support of the Texas suit. I wrote about that filing here.

There are a few notable things about today’s filing. First and foremost, it is notable than only six of the states that joined yesterday’s amicus brief (Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Utah) were willing to join today’s motion to intervene and join the Texas Bill of Complaint. This suggests that some of the state AGs who were willing to say that the claims raised by Texas are sufficiently serious to warrant the Court’s attention were not willing to actually endorse the substance of those claims. Perhaps this indicates there is only so far they are willing to go to virtue-signal their support for the Trump tribe. (Yesterday’s filing from Arizona can be viewed in a similar light.) In the alternative it could simply represent discomfort with some of the claims this new briefing supports, which leads to my next point.

It gets into the legal weeds from there, so read the rest if you’re so inclined. In the meantime, there may still be a couple of respectable voices here in Texas.

The state’s Big Three — Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen — have all supported the suit, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has reportedly even agreed to argue the case before the U.S. Supreme Court if it advances, which legal experts say is extremely unlikely.

More than half of the Texas Republican congressional delegation — 12 members including Reps. Dan Crenshaw, Kevin Brady and Randy Weber — were among the 106 House members to sign onto a brief in support of the suit.

[…]

Still, in what is shaping to be yet another with-Trump or against-Trump moment for Republicans in Congress, the Texas delegation is splitting.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn doubts that Paxton even has grounds to sue. “It’s an interesting theory,” he said, “but I’m not convinced.”

On Thursday, Cornyn — a past Texas attorney general, as is Abbott — was joined by several more prominent Republicans in his dissent.

Rep. Kay Granger, who has represented North Texas for almost two decades, told CNN she did not see the suit going anywhere and called it a “distraction.”

“I’m not supporting it,” Granger said. “I’m just concerned with the process.”

Conservative firebrand Rep. Chip Roy excoriated the suit, saying he could not join colleagues in the House in writing a brief to support the suit because he believes it “represents a dangerous violation of federalism and sets a precedent to have one state asking federal courts to police the voting procedures of other states.”

“I strongly support the continued pursuit of litigation where most likely to succeed — such as Georgia — to bring to light any illegal votes and encourage, if necessary, state legislatures to alter their electors accordingly,” Roy tweeted. “But, I cannot support an effort that will almost certainly fail on grounds of standing and is inconsistent with my beliefs about protecting Texas’ sovereignty from the meddling of other states.”

I give Kay Granger a B+, Cornyn a C, and Roy a D – he was perfectly happy to throw manure on the concept of voting by mail, so his disagreement was entirely about tactics, not principles. I remind you, as recently as 2016, Republicans in Harris County cast more votes by mail than Democrats did. As for Dan Crenshaw, I hope that the next time we try to tell the voters in his district that he’s nothing more than a faithful foot soldier for Donald Trump, they believe us.

Not that Ken Paxton cares, but I appreciate what the DMN editorial board says to him.

Your lawsuit, as you should know, will fail on the merits. Every piece of evidence shows the same result. Donald Trump lost this election. This is why the high court will turn you away, as courts have repeatedly turned away suits seeking to reverse the election’s outcome.

That is not to say that your decisions are without consequence. As the state’s attorney general, you chose to mislead the public by acting as if there were a legal case to defy the will of the voters as expressed through legally administered elections, and this will cause lasting damage to our political system and to faith in our elections. Much like crying wolf when there is no animal in sight, your lawsuit will undermine legitimate complaints in the future about voter fraud and undercut legitimate work in the future to ensure ballot integrity.

Your leadership is also fueling cynicism, empowering conspiracy theorists who operate on accusation rather than fact, and enabling those who seek election confusion rather than clear, compelling and accurate election results. This is leadership unbecoming of your office. It is a disservice to Texans who deserve a well-run office of the attorney general and who depend on a fair administration of justice.

We really need to vote him out in 2022. I’ll wrap up with some tweets.

I’ll blog about that more fully when I see a story. It just sure is hard to separate the timing, and the cravenness, of this lawsuit from Paxton’s immediate needs. We’ll see what SCOTUS has to say, and when they have to say it. Daily Kos and NBCNews have more.

We still have to talk about Paxton’s ridiculous and anti-democratic lawsuit

At least for one more day.

Best mugshot ever

President Donald Trump on Wednesday latched on to a longshot Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn a presidential election that handed the White House to Joe Biden.

Legal experts say Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s effort to contest election results of four key battleground states is all but certain to fail. But it has drawn support from the Republican attorneys general of 17 other states.

As the president’s legal team loses case after improbable case in federal district and appellate courts, the Texas lawsuit offers a major advantage: It goes straight to the top. Under a special legal avenue unique to states, Paxton filed the case directly with the U.S. Supreme Court, a body Trump has suggested could deliver him the victory that voters did not.

[…]

The Texas lawsuit takes issue with changes to election procedures in four battleground states: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Paxton argues those changes were unlawful and call into question Biden’s victories in those states. He is asking the high court to block the critical battlegrounds from participating in the Electoral College.

Though the Supreme Court has a six-member conservative majority, including three justices appointed by Trump himself, it has so far shown no interest in siding with him in the election cases his campaign has lobbed. On Tuesday, it decisively rejected Pennsylvania Republicans’ effort to overturn Biden’s victory there in a one-sentence order with no dissents.

Legal experts and court watchers expect a similar outcome in the Texas case. The court has asked for a response from the four battleground states Texas is suing, setting a Thursday deadline, but has given no indication about how it will decide the matter.

“This is the Hail Mary with time running out the clock kind of play here,” said David Coale, an appellate attorney in Dallas. “This is really the last little window to sort of sneak in there and try to get a court involved.”

States have a special legal ability to take cases directly to the Supreme Court, though such cases are rare, and more typically involve boundary disputes like water rights. If the high court accepts Texas’ argument that it can sue the four battlegrounds in this case, Coale said, “then any state can sue any other state about just about anything.”

Even if the court gets past tricky procedural issues, Texas’ case faces an uphill battle.

Officials in the battleground states have roundly rejected Paxton’s argument, calling it “false,” “irresponsible,” “a publicity stunt,” “genuinely embarrassing,” “beyond reckless” and “beneath the dignity of the office of attorney general.”

They also point out that many of the claims Paxton makes about election irregularities in their states have already been litigated and roundly rejected. Experts, state election officials and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr have all said there is no evidence of voter fraud on a scale that could have affected the outcome of the election.

“Texas alleges that there are 80,000 forged signatures on absentee ballots in Georgia, but they don’t bring forward a single person who this happened to. That’s because it didn’t happen,” said Jordan Fuchs, Georgia’s deputy secretary of state.

See here for the background, and please put aside any concerns you may have for Ken Paxton’s dignity. He sure isn’t concerned about it.

Honestly, the best way to deal with this kind of pure bullshit is through Twitter.

For more responses from people who are smarter and way more honest than Ken Paxton, Texas Lawyer collected a bunch more responses, a sample of which is here:

>> Raffi Melkonian, appellate lawyer at Wright, Close & Barger: “The new Paxton lawsuit is not worth a lot of your time, but I mean, it doesn’t make any sense and is bad and has no chance of success at all. Just want to be clear on that.” [Twitter]

>> Jonathan Adler, Case Western Reserve University law professor: “Here, Texas is not only asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, it is also asking for expedited consideration and extraordinary emergency relief, in the form of injunctions barring the defendant states from relying upon the election results to appoint electors and authorizing ‘pursuant to the Court’s remedial authority, the Defendant States to conduct a special election to appoint presidential electors.’ In effect, the suit is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to supervise the Presidential election in the four defendant states.” [Reason.com]

>> J. Scott Key, Georgia appellate attorney and Mercer University law professor: “This pleading is our book club’s next selection. Over wine, we will discuss whether the text is a coded love letter subtle to a jealous suitor with pardon power.” [Twitter]

>> U.S. Sen. Ted CruzR-Texas:  “Petitioners’ legal team has asked me whether I would be willing to argue the case before #SCOTUS, if the Court grants certiorari. I have agreed, and told them that, if the Court takes the appeal, I will stand ready to present the oral argument.” [Twitter]

>> John Q. Barrett, law professor at St. John’s University School of Law: “Kudos to Sen. Cruz for giving the Court another major reason, just in case it needed any more, to deny cert.” [Twitter]

>> Philadelphia election lawyer Adam Bonin, who has represented the Democratic Party in recent election litigation in Pennsylvania: “It is embarrassing to see argument like this from a state attorney general to the Supreme Court of the United States.” [Twitter]

>> Andrew Fleischman, appellate attorney, Ross & Pines, Atlanta: “Gonna go ahead and sue the Supreme Court to enjoin them from taking up this Texas challenge. That way they’ll all have to recuse. When the Supreme court rejects the suit after dismissing my petition and ordering sanctions, I’ll go on Fox News and say they were scared of me.” [Twitter]  “Ok the absolute trolliest thing Michigan could do right now is move to recuse Paxton because his desire for a pardon is a conflict of interest. We’re not even really doing law any more so why not?” [Twitter]

>> Eric Greenberg, Seyfarth Shaw: “Would the @Nate_Cohn @nytimes needle predicting a Biden win in GA at 3 am in the morning be sufficient evidence to combat the claim as to GA?  Just kidding — but maybe not.” [Twitter]

>> Adam VanHo, Ohio attorney, former state assistant attorney general: “@KenPaxtonTX should be ashamed of himself for this frivolous filing. And if states get to sue other states over their treatment of voters, when will states like New York and Ohio sue southern states over their treatment of former felons’ voting rights.” [Twitter]

>> Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman: “Can the Texas AG *also* sue their Lieutenant Governor for the handsome reward of $2M he owes me for reporting voter fraud?”  [Twitter]

>> Chris Geidner, The Justice Collaborative: “As others have noted, Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins is not on the SCOTUS filing—despite him being the state’s lead SCOTUS lawyer. There is, however, a ‘special counsel’ noted.” [Twitter]

>>Joyce White Vance, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama: “This lawsuit alleges defendant states took advantage of the pandemic to expand vote by mail. It’s the ultimate expression of Trump’s view the GOP can’t win … if all eligible Americans can vote. Tx AG, himself under criminal investigation, appears to be a fan of cheat to win.” [Twitter]

>>Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State: “This lawsuit seems to suggest that the voters of Michigan messed with Texas. They didn’t. Case closed.” [Twitter]

SCOTUS requested responses from the four targeted states by this afternoon. Everyone with integrity believes the case will be summarily dismissed shortly thereafter. Stay tuned. The Chron, Daily Kos, the Current, Political Animal, and Slate have more.

Ken Paxton sues other states to overturn their election results

It’s as stupid and pernicious as it sounds.

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing four battleground states — Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — whose election results handed the White House to President-elect Joe Biden.

In the suit, he claims that pandemic-era changes to election procedures in those states violated federal law, and asks the U.S. Supreme Court to block the states from voting in the Electoral College.

The last-minute bid, which legal experts have already characterized as a longshot, comes alongside dozens of similar attempts by President Donald Trump and his political allies. The majority of those lawsuits have already failed.

There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, officials in most states and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr have said. Biden won in all four states where Paxton is challenging the results.

In a filing to the high court Tuesday, Paxton claims the four battleground states broke the law by instituting pandemic-related changes to election policies, whether “through executive fiat or friendly lawsuits, thereby weakening ballot integrity.”

Paxton claimed that these changes allowed for voter fraud to occur — a conclusion experts and election officials have rejected — and said the court should push back a Dec. 14 deadline by which states must appoint their presidential electors.

“That deadline, however, should not cement a potentially illegitimate election result in the middle of this storm,” attorneys for Texas wrote.

[…]

Notably, Paxton himself is listed as the agency’s lead attorney on the case — a highly unusual role for the state official, who rarely plays a hands-on role even in the state’s major cases. Paxton’s new chief deputy, Brent Webster, signed onto the filing, but conspicuously absent is the agency’s top lawyer for appellate work, Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins, who typically argues the state’s cases before the Supreme Court and did so as recently as last month. None of Hawkins’ deputies is listed as contributing to the case, nor are any of the agency’s hundreds of other attorneys.

The agency instead appears to have hired an outside attorney, Lawrence Joseph, to contribute to the case.

The agency did not answer questions about its staffing choices for the lawsuit, nor did Hawkins himself.

Gov. Greg Abbott, a former Texas attorney general, signaled support for the lawsuit, telling a reporter the case “tries to accelerate the process, providing certainty and clarity about the entire election process. The United States of America needs that.”

We’ll discuss motives in a minute, but first, a few tweets.

You should also read this thread from Steve Vladeck, and this post from Rick Hasen, in which he calls this “a press release masquerading as a lawsuit” and “utter garbage”. And now you know all you need to know about the legal merits of this case, which by the way was filed on the legal deadline for states to certify the Presidential election.

Now then. Why would multiply-accused felon Ken Paxton do this? Two obvious reasons:

1. It’s a signal to George P. Bush and any other potential primary challengers that no one is going to out-wingnut him in 2022. We are at “drinking hemlock to own the libs” levels of depravity here. Maybe Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins will speak up and contradict the speculation about why Paxton was on his own for this, but the fact that Paxton did this on his own is surely a message to any wannabe kingslayers.

2. It’s also a message to Donald Trump, and that message is “PARDON ME! PAAAAAAAARDON MEEEEEEEEE!” Why fight an FBI investigation if you can be pre-emptively declared not guilty of any crimes you may have committed?

My guess is that Greg Abbott’s “well, we should just let the process play out” numbskullery is also an attempt to placate the seething hordes that now think he’s a liberal squish crossed with Joseph Stalin. I doubt it will work, but this is where Abbott is these days.

Anyway. On the one hand, we have already wasted too many brain cells on this. On the other, we should never forget that the official stance of way too many Republican officials is that they cannot lose elections and will do anything at all to prevent that from happening, law and decency and democracy be damned. I can only imagine the freakout they will have when Dems finally break through at the state level. For more reading than you should have time for, see the Chron, TPM, Daily Kos, Mother Jones, Reform Austin, and the Press.

Of course Nate Paul’s attorney donated to Ken Paxton

I mean, duh.

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Several weeks after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton made the unusual move of intervening in a civil lawsuit involving his friend and campaign donor Nate Paul, Paxton received a $25,000 donation from the law firm hired by Paul in the case, records show.

Involving his office in the civil case was just one of a handful of apparent interventions by Paxton on behalf of Paul that troubled the attorney general’s top aides, leading seven of them to report Paxton to law enforcement for potential corruption charges in early October, including bribery and abuse of office. Those accusations are now being investigated by the FBI.

A political action committee for the Austin-based law firm Hance Scarborough — the HS Law PAC — gave Paxton donations of $20,000 and $5,000 on June 30, records show.

Neither the attorney general’s office nor a campaign spokesman for Paxton responded to requests for comment. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.

Reached Tuesday, Paul’s former attorney Terry Scarborough said he “did not know anything about our PAC contributions” because he is not the managing partner of the firm and declined to comment. Scarborough withdrew from the still-pending civil case this fall and no longer represents Paul’s business entities.

Managing partner Jay Stewart, who is trustee of the PAC, said it operates independent of the firm’s litigation section and that the donation had nothing to do with any cases.

“That was a contribution that we routinely make,” Stewart said. “I wasn’t even aware of that piece of litigation that Mr. Scarborough worked on.”

He said the firm, which represents clients in matters relating to regulatory and public policy law, has been giving to the attorney general’s office for years, even before Paxton took office. The firm has also donated to Paxton since his days as a Texas legislator, he said.

State campaign finance data shows the PAC last donated to Paxton in 2014, a total of $10,000 in the runup to Paxton’s first election.

Still, the donation this past summer marks the second financial tie, albeit an indirect one, between Paul and Paxton to come to light. The Houston Chronicle first reported in October that Paul had donated $25,000 to Paxton in 2018 for his re-election campaign.

There’s almost too much backstory on this to read if you need to catch up, but this and this will get you started. There are two obvious facts here to state. One is that contributions like this are in fact routine and common and under normal circumstances would not merit any scrutiny. You can feel about that however you want to feel about it. The second is that Ken Paxton deserves zero benefit of the doubt at this point. These contributions by themselves are perfectly legal and don’t mean anything, and yet in the context of the larger story they’re yet another piece of a big puzzle. The picture that puzzle represents is already quite clear.

The last whistleblower

Nothing like a fully cleaned house.

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The Texas attorney general’s office has fired the last remaining whistleblower who alleged Ken Paxton broke the law in doing favors for a political donor — just days after aides had sued the agency alleging they suffered retaliation for making the report.

Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar — who had already been placed on paid leave — was fired Nov. 17, according to internal personnel documents obtained by The Texas Tribune, making him the fifth whistleblower to be fired from the agency in less than a month. The three others who reported Paxton to law enforcement have resigned.

On Nov. 12, Vassar and three of his former colleagues filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Texas attorney general’s office, claiming they had suffered retaliation after they told law enforcement they believed Paxton broke the law by using the agency to serve the interests of a political donor and friend, Nate Paul.

Joseph Knight, Vassar’s attorney in the lawsuit, said the justification Vassar was given for his termination amounted to “made-up, nonsense reasons” — and that he believes the firing was an act of retaliation. Vassar was hired by the agency in 2015.

Neither the attorney general’s office nor Ian Prior, a political spokesman for Paxton, returned requests for comment on why Vassar was terminated, though Prior has said previous terminations were not acts of retaliation but rather related to policy violations.

See here for more on the whistleblowers’ lawsuit. As we know, the FBI is investigating Paxton for the allegations that have been leveled against him regarding Nate Paul. Nothing else new to report here, so just let the anticipation wash over you.

So the FBI is indeed investigating Ken Paxton

Sources say so.

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The FBI is investigating allegations that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton broke the law in using his office to benefit a wealthy donor, according to two people with knowledge of the probe.

Federal agents are looking into claims by former members of Paxton’s staff that the high-profile Republican committed bribery, abuse of office and other crimes to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, the people told The Associated Press. They insisted on anonymity to discuss the investigation because it is ongoing.

Confirmation of the criminal probe marks mounting legal peril for Paxton, who’s denied wrongdoing and refused calls for his resignation since his top deputies reported him to federal authorities at the end of September.

A criminal defense attorney for Paxton, Philip Hilder, declined to comment. Spokespersons in the attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

[…]

Paxton said in a Tuesday statement to the Austin American-Stateman that, “after reviewing the claims made by former employees of this office, their allegations are overblown, based upon assumptions, and to a large degree misrepresent the facts.”

KXAN has Paxton’s full statement, if for some reason you need to see it. Just the other day I was saying that we needed to be patient, because it usually takes a long time to find out what’s happening with this sort of thing. This is one of those times when I’m quite happy to be wrong. The Trib has more.

The life and times of Ken Paxton

This long Trib story is basically a biography of Ken Paxton, with a focus on his ethical and legal travails since 2014. Most of what’s in here you already know, but if you need a refresher or you know someone who wants to get up to speed on the saga, this would be an excellent starting point. I’m going to highlight a couple of bits, mostly from the end, to illustrate where we are now.

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Although Democrats continue to make major hay of the [2015 securities fraud] charges, Paxton maintained enough support from conservatives to stay in office. Supporters compared his case to that of former Gov. Rick Perry, whose team spun the former governor’s indictment for abuse of power as a political hit job, and whose case was eventually dismissed.

With the securities fraud accusations, conservatives didn’t necessarily think Paxton was blameless — but he looked “sloppy” more than anything else, conservative political consultant Luke Macias said.

“The past accusations were more like Democrats trying to impeach Trump,” Macias said. This time is different, he said: The allegations are more serious, and they’re coming from attorneys respected on the right for their legal abilities and their conservative credentials.

[…]

Federal authorities have declined to say whether they are investigating Paxton, and the Texas Rangers said they referred complaints against Paxton to the FBI. But legal experts say it’s all but certain federal authorities are vetting the accusations against Paxton.

It would be “highly unusual” for federal authorities not to investigate, given the seriousness of the allegations and the presumed credibility of the accusers, said Edward Loya, a Dallas attorney and former prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice who handled public corruption investigations.

“That is a serious claim made by law enforcement professionals who, we expect, understand the gravity of such an accusation,” Loya said. He added that it’s unlikely any major developments would become public about the investigation for several months.

We may grind our teeth at Luke Macias’ words, but we must recognize that having a Jeff Mateer call Ken Paxton a crook is going to be taken more seriously by Republicans than having any Democrat call Paxton a crook. And yes, I know, it was a grand jury in Collin County that returned the indictments, but don’t let the facts get in the way of the story. Also, we need to be patient, because it will be a long time before we know for sure if this is a real thing that is going somewhere or just a lot of smoke that was never a fire.

Now, Paxton sits at the head of an agency that is hemorrhaging senior staff even as its workload — a slew of election-related lawsuits, thousands of child support cases, an argument at the U.S. Supreme Court — remains heavy and urgent.

In addition to the eight whistleblowers, Paxton has lost Ben Williams, who had worked with the attorney general since his days in the Legislature and ran Paxton’s campaign for House speaker and state Senate. Williams resigned just days after the allegations were made public. Katherine Cary, the agency’s chief of staff, was already set to retire this fall. Marc Rylander, a longtime Paxton ally and the agency’s former communications director, left in September. And Simpson, who headed the agency’s human resources department during the debacle, retired at the end of October.

At a senior staff meeting last month, before the whistleblowers had left or been fired, Darren McCarty, a former senior aide, asked Paxton whether the agency would stop bashing them in statements to the media. There was no response.

In an Oct. 16 letter to the Legislature, Paxton insisted that the agency was forging ahead full bore — a characterization some current and former agency staff members consider far rosier than the truth.

Some attorneys in litigation-heavy divisions of the agency fear his reputation will hurt their credibility in court.

“Any action taken by the AG’s office under General Paxton is suspect,” said Shane Phelps, who was a senior deputy at the agency under former attorneys general Cornyn and Dan Morales. The agency has to keep litigating its thousands of cases, on everything from child support to the death penalty, but now judges will “be on the lookout for any indication that it’s being handled irregularly, in any way that is coming from the top and for all the wrong reasons.”

“It has damaged the credibility and the ability of the AG’s office to further the interest of the state of Texas in court,” Phelps said, and “given all sorts of ammunition for anybody opposing the AG’s office in court to start talking about these things.”

“Something needs to happen,” Phelps said. “It sounds like he’s getting pretty brazen.”

I’d say Ken Paxton been pretty brazen for some time now, but I take his point. As for the current functional capacity of the AG’s office, on the one hand I’m happy to have our eventual Democratic candidate beat Paxton over the head about how his own actions have severely shackled the agency. But on the other hand, given that this AG’s office almost never does something I approve of, I’m not exactly heartbroken by this turn of events. May he stay limited in his ability to cause damage until such time as he is ejected from that office. Reform Austin has more.

(Note: This story came out one day before the four whistleblowers filed their lawsuit against Paxton. I had figured I could wait to publish this till the weekend, since it wasn’t breaking news or anything. Life comes at you fast.)

Paxton sued by four whistleblowers

Start popping the corn.

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Despite his role as the state’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Ken Paxton “believes he is above the very law” he is supposed to uphold, several whistleblowers say in a new lawsuit seeking damages after he allegedly retaliated against them.

In the lawsuit filed this week in Austin, four top former Paxton aides recounted some of the extraordinary efforts the attorney general allegedly made on behalf of his friend and campaign donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor — everything from empowering Paul to go after business adversaries to helping him stave off foreclosure.

They say Paxton frequently met with Paul without his security detail present and abused his office to “advance the legal and personal interests” of the Austin businessman. Over time, Paxton “became less rational in his decision making and more unwilling” to listen to criticism of his actions, they said.

[…]

“The most senior members of the [office of the attorney general] believed in good faith that Paxton was breaking the law and abusing his office…,” ” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit provides more detail about allegations that have been leaking out in press reports since early October, including Paxton’s efforts to hire an outside lawyer to oversee a criminal investigation sought by Paul.

The FBI raided Paul and his businesses last year, and he has complained vociferously that he was treated unfairly and illegally by state and federal law enforcement. Those complaints reached Paxton and eventually led the attorney general to launch a probe — at Paul’s urging.

“Paxton rarely showed an interest in any pending criminal investigations, but he showed an extraordinary interest in the investigations sought by Paul,” the lawsuit alleges.

Among the “perceived adversaries” that Paul wanted the attorney general’s office to investigate: a federal magistrate judge, FBI agents, a federal bankruptcy judge, a local charity and a credit union, according to the lawsuit.

Though criminal investigators concluded “no credible evidence existed” to warrant state charges, Paxton pressed on and eventually hired an outside lawyer to oversee an investigation, which has since collapsed amid the controversy.

The lawsuit doesn’t just give more detail about the accusations that have already been reported. It also provides fresh allegations about Paxton’s abuse of his power to make rulings in disputes over the release of government records — once again to benefit Paul.

Though the attorney general’s office makes rulings in up to 40,000 open records disputes each year, the whistleblowers say they are “only aware of Paxton taking a personal interest in decisions that relate to Paul.”

In one instance involving records that Paul was seeking from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Paxton “personally took the file,” which included records sealed by a federal court, and “did not return it for approximately seven to ten days.”

In other open records cases involving Paul he told his deputies what conclusion he wanted them to reach even if it was unsupported by the law, according to the lawsuit.

Oh, mama. Let’s look at the Trib story for more details.

The whistleblowers are asking for reinstatement, as well as compensation for lost wages, future loss of earnings and damages for emotional pain and suffering. If they succeed, it will be taxpayers, not Paxton himself, who bear the majority of the litigation costs.

Under the Texas Whistleblower Act, any adverse action taken against whistleblowers within 90 days of their report to authorities is “presumed” to be retaliation for that report. The firings, as well as other actions alleged in detailed complaints to the agency’s human resources department, all fit within that three-month time frame.

Paxton has dismissed the whistleblowers as “rogue employees” wielding “false allegations.” But media reports in The Texas Tribune and other outlets, as well as public documents, show four instances when the attorney general’s office intervened in a legal matter in a manner that seemed to help Paul — events that are also detailed in the new lawsuit.

Paul and Paxton are friendly, but the full nature of their relationship remains unclear. Paul donated $25,000 to Paxton’s reelection campaign in 2018. Paul said in a court deposition last week that they have known each other for years, and sometimes had lunch together. Asked whether they were friends, Paul said “I consider the relationship, you know, positive.”

[…]

But for the whistleblowers, the most troubling example came this fall, when Paxton hired a 34-year-old Houston defense attorney, Brandon Cammack, to vet complaints made by Paul that he had been mistreated during the 2019 raid on his home and office.

Maxwell and Penley had been tapped to look into Paul’s complaints given their leading roles in law enforcement and criminal justice. But they had found, according to the lawsuit, “no credible evidence existed to support any state law charges.”

When Penley said he believed the investigation should be closed, Paul, his attorney and Paxton all “pushed back.”

Paxton soon turned to an outside investigator, Cammack, to vet Paul’s complaints against authorities, hiring the young lawyer through a process his top aides characterized as unusual and improper.

The office also considered hiring Joe Brown, a former U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Texas and onetime Grayson County district attorney — experience, legal experts say, that would have better positioned him for the position. Brown told The Texas Tribune he interviewed for the job in late August but eventually negotiations stalled.

Emails Brown sent the agency show he was concerned about allowing the attorney general’s office — or Paxton himself — to direct a probe that would ultimately lead to prosecution. One of the authorities Paul targeted in his complaint was the Texas State Securities Board, which in 2014 fined Paxton $1,000 for violating the Texas Securities Act, a law he was later indicted for violating.

“While I will fully investigate the circumstances related to the referral received, and provide a report related to any potential criminal charges, I am not committing to handling the prosecution of any resulting case,” Brown said in an email to the agency.

But he added that he might be willing to take on such a prosecution “after any ethical conflicts which could arise have been fully considered.”

Ultimately, the agency opted to hire the less experienced Cammack — Paxton’s decision, according to the lawsuit.

The four plaintiffs are David Maxwell, Mark Penley, Blake Brickman, and Ryan Vassar. I wonder if the other whistleblowers have their own legal action planned, or will just be witnesses in this one.

Reading these stories crystallized something for me that I hadn’t consciously considered before, which is why would Ken Paxton do all this stuff for one asshole like Nate Paul? Not to be too crude about it, but a $25K campaign contribution only buys you so much. There’s plenty of that kind of money out there for Paxton, so why would he (allegedly) do all of this crazy and maybe illegal stuff for that guy? There has to be more in it for him than that. All of these stories note that the “full nature of the relationship between Paxton and Paul is unclear”, and that just has to be the key to cracking this. There is something else we don’t know, maybe more than one something else, and until we find out what that is, we are not going to understand this story. Maybe this lawsuit will be the fulcrum that helps unearth whatever that is.

Felony bail reform lawsuit moves forward

Pending the next appeal, anyway.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the case challenging Harris County’s felony bail system should proceed to trial. Nineteen felony judges represented by state Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately gave notice they planned to appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit

[…]

The defendants include Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who does not oppose the litigation, and 23 Harris County felony district judges, who have split into a larger group represented by Paxton, who opposes the lawsuit, and a smaller faction represented by attorney Allan Van Fleet, who represented the judges in the misdemeanor bail case.

In a 65-page opinion, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal denied the state and felony judges’ motions to dismiss the case, finding that the evidence involved “vigorously disputed factual allegations that must be developed further to resolve the legal issues the parties present.”

Lawyers for Abbott and 19 Democratic district judges argued in October the judges were protected by immunity, the federal courts do not have jurisdiction and the indigent arrestees do not have standing to sue.

Rosenthal found the court had standing and thousands of indigent arrestees, even though the individuals changed over time, had grounds, as a group, to sue.

See here, here, and here for the background. This was a motion to dismiss on largely procedural grounds, so there’s plenty of room for the Fifth Circuit to step in and throw this out without the merits of the case ever getting litigated. Obviously, I hope that does not happen.

This is the first I’d heard of the judicial plaintiffs being in two different groups; I need to understand what that means going forward. You know where I stand on this, and I plan to make a Big Deal out of which judges are on the right side of this issue, and which are actively obstructing it. So far, that standard hasn’t been met, but if the Fifth Circuit upholds this ruling then I will look very sideways at further appeals.

New details about the Paxton-Paul relationship

From depositions in a civil lawsuit, we learn more about Ken Paxton’s dealings with Nate Paul, the Austin real estate developer who’s at the root of Paxton’s current problems.

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In a transcript of the deposition obtained by The Texas Tribune on Wednesday, Paul said that he could not recall exactly when he met Paxton but that it was “several years ago.”

Paul said he considers “the relationship, you know, positive,” when asked by a lawyer in the deposition whether they were friends.

The two sometimes ate lunch together, but Paul could not say how many times, he said in the deposition. He also said they had been in touch recently, when he offered condolences to Paxton, whose mother died in late October.

Paul did not answer several questions during the hourslong deposition, which came as part of a legal dispute between Paul and the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation, an Austin-based nonprofit that provides grants to charitable organizations and academic scholarships for financially needy students. The nonprofit sued Paul’s firm in 2018, claiming he wasn’t sharing financial information about jointly owned investments managed by his businesses.

Paxton’s office took the unusual step of intervening in that lawsuit this summer, but reversed its decision shortly before the senior aides’ complaints were made public.

[…]

The agency handles tens of thousands of cases a year, so it was highly unusual that Paxton took such a close interest in so many low-profile matters tied to Paul, according to former agency staff and legal experts.

Paul’s attorney, Michael Wynne, did not respond to several questions from the Tribune, including inquiries about the nature of the investigation at the attorney general’s office. A spokesperson for Paxton said the agency is investigating some of the whistleblowers who reported Paxton to law enforcement for “making false representations to the court, illegally leaking grand jury materials, and violating numerous agency policies” but did not provide further details.

The attorneys also asked Paul about some of the legal matters in which actions of the attorney general’s office have benefited Paul.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Paul faced foreclosure on a number of properties this summer — but that the foreclosure sales didn’t take place after Paxton rushed a legal opinion that made it harder for such sales to proceed.

[…]

Paxton’s involvement in the case was not just unusual, but unethical, said Shane Phelps, who worked in the attorney general’s office under Dan Morales and was deputy attorney general for criminal justice under former attorney general John Cornyn.

“The only reason an AG would get involved in a case like that, if they were not minding their ethics P’s and Q’s, would be because they’ve got a donor who’s got an interest in it,” Phelps said. “If they have a donor who has an interest in a case, any ethical and appropriate attorney general is gonna say, ‘I can’t do that’ and is not gonna do it.”

See here for some background, and go read the rest because there’s a lot that I couldn’t include. There’s been a ton of information about this case, all of which sounds deeply fishy, though it’s hard to summarize. We’d probably not know about any of it had it not been for the shocking and explosive allegations by Paxton’s now-former aides, all of whom deserve a lot of credit for taking action in the face of significant consequences. When we finally free ourselves of Ken Paxton, they’ll be a big part of the reason why.

George P Bush sees an opportunity

He’s not shy, I’ll give him that.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush will “keep all options open” about a potential bid for attorney general in 2022 as current Attorney General Ken Paxton grapples with a mutiny from his senior staff and the spectre of a criminal investigation, a senior adviser for Bush said Monday.

“Several donors have asked Commissioner Bush to consider running for Attorney General in 2022 in light of the recent allegations about that office,” Ash Wright, a senior political adviser for Bush, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “Commissioner Bush has always said he will ‘keep all options open’ and that remains his policy. Like many conservative leaders around the state, he is very concerned about the allegations regarding Paxton.”

Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, is the only member of the well-known Republican family to currently hold office, though a cousin, Pierce Bush, ran unsuccessfully this year for the GOP nomination in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District. He was elected in 2014 to oversee the Texas General Land Office, a statewide position.

Ian Prior, a political spokesman for Paxton, said the attorney general — who has called the aides’ allegations false — “is absolutely planning on running again, is looking forward to winning a third term and is never going to stop fighting for the people of Texas.”

Look, you can’t expect George P Bush to just be Land Commissioner forever. He was meant for bigger things. Attorney General sounds nice, and that Paxton fellow has gotten himself into a spot of trouble, so why shouldn’t he try this on for size?

It’s not clear at this time that conditions will be favorable to a Paxton primary challenge. He hasn’t committed any acts of heresy or betrayal, just maybe a few silly little felonies, the sort of thing that could happen to anyone. So far, other than Chip Roy, who has his own election to worry about, no Republicans have done anything more than express a bit of mild concern. If Paxton does get himself into a situation that he can’t weasel his way out of, there’s no way that George P Bush will have the anti-Paxton field to himself. He’s been in a prolonged pissing contest with Dan Patrick about the Alamo (it’s too dumb for me to keep close track of, so go google it yourself), so one assumes there would be a Patrick-approved contestant in that race. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves, as Paxton is still there and as yet is not fatally wounded. George P Bush is doing what he does best, which is getting his name out there and making sure people know he’s ready for his next big thing, whatever that may be.

(Note: This story was from before the election. Too much news, remember? I doubt anything has happened since then to change our boy’s trajectory. Also, as a reminder, former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski has announced his Democratic candidacy for AG.)

Oh, yeah, more Paxton news

The damn election has made it so hard to keep up with L’Affaire Paxton, and I use that term with a bit of a wink, as you’ll soon see. I’ve got four stories to catch you up on, and the last one is a doozy. Let’s take them chronologically. First up, from last week (too much news!), we have this AP story about the complaint Nate Paul filed that led to the Paxton investigation that led to all his top deputies accusing Paxton of taking a bribe.

An Austin real estate developer at the center of recent allegations against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked for an investigation into his uncorroborated claims that other businessmen have an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million worth of his properties with the help of a federal judge.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of a Nate Paul’s undated complaint, which reveals that the developer’s claims focused on his business to an extent not previously known and raises new questions about the Republican attorney general’s handling of allegations made by a wealthy donor.

After Paxton hired an outside lawyer to investigate Paul’s claims, his seven top deputies reported the attorney general to the FBI for alleged abuse of office, bribery and other crimes linked to his relationship with Paul.

In his complaint to prosecutors in Austin, Paul said the owner of a chain of Texas car dealerships schemed with lawyers, investors and others to seize his assets. The developer accuses 11 people of an intricate fraud that was allegedly set to include the judge and another court-appointed official facilitating a “rigged auction.”

The signed, 10-page “request to investigate” is one of two from Paul that were referred to Paxton’s office, setting off the remarkable revolt by the Republican’s staff.

Paul’s complaint is largely based on things he says he heard second-hand. Many of those accused are in business and legal fights with Paul, and some derided his claims as ridiculous. None have been charged with crimes.

A retired FBI agent who reviewed the complaint called the plot as likely as “winning the lottery.”

“I’m confident these allegations are all a bunch of complete nonsense,” said Keith Byers, an attorney in the Houston area who previously oversaw FBI public corruption cases. “The unfortunate part of this is that the good name of a seemingly reputable judge is being smeared by these wild and farcical allegations.”

[…]

Paul’s lawyer, Michael Wynne, said his client has “significant evidence” to support his allegations but declined to elaborate. “I will reserve further comment since this is an ongoing investigation,” he said.

I’ll bet you do, sunshine. I’m skipping the details because my eyes kind of glazed over, but you get the picture. Remember, Paxton’s staff looked into this and concluded it was without merit. It was then that Paxton hired the wet-behind-the-ears “special prosecutor” Brandon Cammack to continue “investigating” under his direction, and that’s when his staff rebelled. It got ugly from there.

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At a senior staff meeting one Thursday morning in May, with much of the Texas attorney general’s office working from home and morale seeming low, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton arrived at the Price Daniel Sr. State Office Building in downtown Austin with a surprise honor for a top deputy: a copy of “Scalia Speaks,” the late conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice’s book.

Paxton had inscribed it with a congratulatory note for Blake Brickman, and presented it personally at the meeting of about 20 people.

“Blake, I am so grateful you joined our team at the Texas AG’s office,” Paxton wrote in blue ink, honoring the top deputy in a new, if short-lived, tradition, according to two people who attended the meetings. “I am confident that you will continue to make a difference for our office and all of Texas.”

Lacey Mase and Ryan Bangert, two other senior aides, would soon win similar accolades. But by October, Paxton had publicly disparaged Brickman, Mase, Bangert and several of his other most senior aides as “rogue employees” — and by the first week of November, Paxton had fired Brickman, Mase and two other top aides.

The week before his termination, Brickman had told the agency’s human resources department, in a formal complaint obtained by The Texas Tribune, that he was being blocked from meetings and prevented from seeing critical documents; that he believed his computer was being monitored; and that a superior had brought an armed “sergeant” to a staff meeting. His allegations echo formal complaints filed by five other whistleblowers.

The abrupt change, interviews and internal agency documents show, came after seven senior aides and whistleblowers in the attorney general’s office— Brickman, Bangert and Mase among them — reported Paxton to law enforcement on Sept. 30, alleging criminal violations. An eighth senior aide made a similar report to authorities on Oct. 1.

[…]

In their complaints, several of the whistleblowers allege that Paxton and First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster, who Paxton hired to replace Mateer Oct. 5, created a “hostile environment” after they reported Paxton to law enforcement.

On Oct. 5, Webster’s first day at the agency, an armed guard was posted on the eighth floor of the Price Daniel Sr. building, where the agency’s executive team works, according to the complaints.

Bangert wrote that he asked Webster why the guard had been brought there — since he had never observed someone stationed there before — and that Webster said the guard was there for Webster’s own protection, as “he trusted no one and was not about [to] ‘leave his flank exposed.’”

“Other OAG staff complained to me that the presence of an armed officer in meetings was an unprecedented attempt by Mr. Webster to intimidate senior members of OAG staff on his first day as First Assistant,” Brickman wrote in his complaint.

On the same day, Bangert wrote in his complaint, a large stack of empty cardboard boxes was delivered to the eighth floor — which he considered an unspoken signal “that we were to pack our personal belongings in those cardboard boxes and leave.”

During a senior staff meeting on Oct. 8, a week after the group reported Paxton to law enforcement, McCarty asked Paxton and Webster whether the office would continue to publicly disparage whistleblowers. The agency had called them “rogue” and told reporters, without providing evidence, that it was investigating their behavior. There was no answer to McCarty’s question, according to several of the complaints.

The whistleblowers reported being excluded from meetings, sidelined from their routine job responsibilities and denied access to documents they needed to perform their duties.

Several also wrote that they believed superiors at the agency were monitoring them through their electronic devices.

You really need to read that whole story. The armed guard is just off the charts bizarre. These were apparently exemplary employees, with stellar personnel records, who suddenly became rogue and insubordinate rule-breakers in record time. All are now gone from the office, having been fired or resigned. (That’s story number 3, I’m skipping it because there’s not much to add from it.) As I’ve said before, even if Paxton is telling the truth about this, it sure doesn’t say much about him as a manager, if all these people he once trusted turned out to be such scurrilous characters.

And then there was this, which totally dropped my jaw.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had an extramarital affair with a woman whom he later recommended for a job with the wealthy donor now at the center of criminal allegations against him, according to two people who said Paxton told them about the relationship.

The two people, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to fears about retaliation, said the high-profile Republican official acknowledged the affair in 2018 to senior members of his office and political staff. They said he told them that he had ended the affair with the woman, who then worked for a GOP state senator.

Austin developer Nate Paul said in a deposition this week that Paxton recommended the woman for her job with Paul’s real estate company, according to a transcript of his deposition obtained by the AP. The woman had stopped working as a Senate aide at the end of 2019, though her reason for departing wasn’t immediately clear.

Paul’s hiring of the woman at Paxton’s recommendation sheds new light on the relationship between the two men.

[…]

During his Monday deposition, Paul explicitly denied employing the former Senate aide at his company, World Class, as a favor to Paxton.

“World Class has hundreds of employees, including (the woman), and in accordance with federal and state laws does not invade their privacy including to inquire about their personal lives,” the developer’s lawyer, Michael Wynne, said in an email.

The woman is named in a transcript of Paul’s deposition and both people who said Paxton told them of the affair independently identified her by name. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment. AP is not naming her because she is not a public figure.

Under questioning during the deposition, Paul said he did not know how the woman he hired and the attorney general knew each other. He said he couldn’t recall how long the woman had worked for him, what she was paid and whether he met her before or after Paxton recommended her.

The senator’s office has not responded to requests for comment. The woman’s personnel records are blank where the reason for her departure would be indicated.

[…]

Paxton acknowledged his affair with the woman during his hard-fought 2018 reelection campaign at least partially out of concern that it would become public, the people who he told about it said.

That September, Paxton gathered a small group of top staff in his Austin campaign office. A person who attended the meeting said Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, walked into the conference room holding hands. The attorney general told the group he had an affair but had since ended it and recommitted to his marriage, the person said.

Damn. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t remember hearing about this two years ago. And look, it’s not like having an affair makes you unfit for holding public office, but let’s just say I have less patience with people who are such strong defenders of “traditional marriage” who it turns out don’t seem to have all that much respect for their own marriage vows. I didn’t think it was possible for me to think less of Ken Paxton than I already do, but here we are. Who knows what we’ll find out about him next.

UPDATE: Meant to point to this Twitter thread by DMN reporter Lauren McGaughy as well.

Paxton completes his housecleaning

Only loyalists left.

Best mugshot ever

The last of the seven top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of criminal violations has resigned from the agency.

Ryan Bangert, who served in one of the agency’s highest posts as deputy first assistant attorney general, resigned Wednesday, he told The Texas Tribune. The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request Wednesday seeking to confirm Bangert’s employment status.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve alongside the men and women of the Office of the Attorney General,” Bangert said in a statement. The Dallas Morning News first reported the information.

Two of the other whistleblowers were fired last week, two more were put on leave, and two others have already resigned — leaving the sprawling agency without seven of its top officials. A spokesman for Paxton denied that the firings were retaliation, citing unspecified violations of agency policy.

See here for the previous update. Just a coincidence that this all happened at this time, I’m sure. Having such a mass exodus, mostly forced, of one’s most trusted staff isn’t a great sign no matter how you spin it. Even if we believe Paxton’s story that a bunch of rogue underlings cooked up this lie about him to distract from their own bad behavior, the fact would remain that he hired and trusted all those people who then went on to do such bad things. I’ll agree that’s better than if those allegations about him are true, but it still paints a picture of a guy who isn’t good at his job. But better incompetent than incarcerated, I suppose. Only if you buy his story, of course. And I see no reason to do that.

Time to check in on Ken Paxton again

It’s good to know, in times of crisis, that there are friendly fake media outfits one can run to to deny all the allegations against you.

Best mugshot ever

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton decided to break his silence about accusations by his top aides that he had committed crimes including bribery and abuse of office, he turned to a little-known legal outlet called the Southeast Texas Record.

In the exclusive interview, he trashed the aides and claimed that before his top deputy resigned, Paxton had planned to put him on leave anyway.

The website where that interview was posted has been identified as part of a national network of some 1,300 pay-for-play news websites that publish on-demand coverage for Republican political campaigns and public relations firms. According to The New York Times, those websites, whose names sound like ordinary local news outlets, have received at least $1.7 million from Republican political campaigns and conservative groups.

Ian Prior, who promoted the story for the Paxton campaign, denied to The Texas Tribune that the campaign had paid the outlet to run the story — “definitive no,” he said — saying he had merely reached out to set up an interview with an outlet that had already covered the story.

The Southeast Texas Record describes itself as a legal outlet focused on informing readers about the courts, with a weekly print edition published on Sundays.

After the interview was published, Prior shared it with reporters via email.

He declined to answer questions about why the campaign chose a little-known legal publication as opposed to a news outlet with wider readership, such as The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle or Austin American-Statesman, which had all been following the Paxton story closely.

“Appreciate the question but not going to get into [public relations] strategy/discussions,” Prior said in a text message Tuesday.

[…]

In the Oct. 13 Paxton story, the Record foregrounds Paxton’s point of view in the ongoing scandal and elaborates less on the allegations against him, which remain murky, with federal authorities refusing to confirm whether there is an investigation into Paxton’s behavior at all. The author, David Yates, writes that Jeff Mateer — the top Paxton deputy who resigned after accusing his boss of criminal wrongdoing — did not return requests for comment.

It gives no indication that the author attempted to reach David Maxwell or Mark Penley, two top aides whose work is questioned in the story and whom Paxton placed on leave from the agency.

And the story elides details that raise questions about Paxton’s role in the scandal. In an internal email that was obtained by the Tribune, top aides alleged Paxton was using the power of his office to help a donor, real estate investor Nate Paul, who accused federal authorities of wrongdoing after the FBI raided his home and office in 2019. Paxton has claimed his office was investigating Paul’s allegations merely because local authorities in the Travis County district attorney’s office referred the complaint to the agency. But Travis County DA Margaret Moore has disputed that timeline, telling reporters that Paxton sought a meeting with her office about the complaint before it was referred.

The Record story does not include those details, nor does it extensively detail the accounts of the seven senior aides who have leveled accusations against Paxton.

The strategy is obvious: Talk to friendly people who won’t ask any embarrassing questions, and avoid any outlets that will probe or push back. That way, the core supporters will only hear your side of the story and can thus dismiss anything that comes out elsewhere, since it’s not from a “trusted” source. This doesn’t stop all the bad information from getting out, but it does put a barrier up to it for the base.

Also, the retributions have begun.

Lacey Mase, one of the top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of crimes including bribery and abuse of office, has been fired, she told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday evening.

“It was not voluntary,” she said, but declined to comment further.

Mase was hired in 2011 and worked most recently as the deputy attorney general for administration. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

[…]

Mase’s personnel file, obtained through a public records request, shows she rose quickly through the agency’s ranks, earning frequent promotions. She was promoted as recently as Sept. 1, 2019, earning a nearly 12% pay bump to $205,000 annually. When Mase was promoted in April 2018, a supervisor wrote that she “consistently exceeded standards” in all her roles at the agency. Her salary has multiplied over the past few years, from $50,000 in 2013 to more than $200,000 most recently.

Texas law “protects public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority,” according to the Texas attorney general’s website. “An employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”

Firing Mase so soon after she and the other top aides made their report is “suspicious,” said Jason Smith, a North Texas employment attorney who has handled whistleblower cases and who worked in the attorney general’s office in the 1990s.

“This looks and smells like classic whistleblower retaliation,” Smith said. “This situation looks like what the Texas Whistleblower Act was designed to prevent. And the timing looks bad.”

Smith said the aides appear to have taken all the proper steps to invoke whistleblower protections, reporting suspect behavior to “an appropriate law enforcement authority” as specified in the law, and making their employer aware of the allegations through the letter to human resources. The aides used that exact language — “appropriate law enforcement authority” — in their Oct. 1 letter to the agency.

I mean, maybe there was a reason for this, but it sure looks suspicious, and there’s no way Ken Paxton deserves any benefit of the doubt. And hey, now there’s a pattern.

A second whistleblower has been fired from the Texas attorney general’s office after reporting his boss, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to law enforcement for crimes including bribery and abuse of office, according to a former senior official with the agency who had knowledge about the firing but did not want to be named for fear of legal repercussions.

Blake Brickman, who had served as deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives for less than a year, was fired Tuesday, the official said.

[…]

Brickman and Mase were among seven top aides in Paxton’s office who alerted law enforcement weeks ago that they believed their boss had run afoul of the law. In internal emails obtained by the Tribune, they accused Paxton of using the power of his office to serve the financial interests of a donor, Nate Paul.

I mean, once you’ve fired one whistleblower, why not go all in and fire another? In for a penny and all that. I hope Ms. Mase and Mr. Brickman find themselves some good employment attorneys. The Chron has more.

Your handwriting should not jeopardize your vote

Jesus Christ.

Texas election officials may continue rejecting mail-in ballots if they decide the signature on the ballot can’t be verified, without notifying voters until after the election that their ballot wasn’t counted, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday.

The appeals court halted a lower court’s injunction, which had not gone into effect, that would have required the Texas secretary of state to either advise local election officials that mail-in ballots may not be rejected using the existing signature-comparison process, or require them to set up a notification system giving voters a chance to challenge a rejection while their vote still counts.

Requiring such a process would compromise the integrity of the mail-in ballots “as Texas officials are preparing for a dramatic increase of mail-in voting, driven by a global pandemic,” reads the Monday opinion issued by U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith.

“Texas’s strong interest in safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud far outweighs any burden the state’s voting procedures place on the right to vote,” Smith wrote.

Before mail-in ballots are counted, a committee of local election officials reviews them to ensure that a voter’s endorsement on the flap of a ballot envelope matches the signature that voter used on their application to vote by mail. They can also compare it to signatures on file with the county clerk or voter registrar that were made within the last six years.

The state election code does not establish any standards for signature review, which is conducted by local election officials who seldom have training in signature verification.

Voters must be notified within 10 days after the election that their ballot was rejected, but state election law does not require affording them an opportunity to challenge the rejection, the appeals court ruling noted.

[…]

Plaintiffs said they will now push counties to voluntarily give early notice to voters whose ballots are rejected for signature-match issues, allowing them a chance to rectify the situation and let their vote count.

“It will affect this 2020 election, so voters will not be notified in time, and so I think the main thing we’re trying to do now is notify counties that ballot boards are not required to give pre-election day notice, but they can,” said H. Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE Texas, a plaintiff. “We encourage them to follow the original intent of the lower courts here so folks (whose ballots were rejected) can go vote in person, or contest that decision.”

See here for the background. That ruling had been stayed pending this appeal, so in that sense nothing has been lost. It’s another typical hatchet job from the country’s worst court. Let me bullet-point this, because I’m tired and this shit needs to stop.

– We all know that if this had a disproportionate effect on white voters, the concern about “safeguarding the integrity of its elections from voter fraud” would be a mere footnote. Some voters are more equal than others.

– On the very same day that this turd was handed down, a state court in North Carolina ruled that “voters whose absentee ballots have problems with their envelopes can now expect contact from board of elections offices in order to fix their ballots by Election Day”. We need uniform national standards that prioritize and protect the rights and ability of all citizens to vote. That needs to be very high on the to do list of the next Congress.

– Can we please give some serious consideration to packing the Fifth Circuit? Quite a few Trump-appointed judges are there because vacancies were not allowed to be filled during Obama’s terms. This court is in serious need of reform.

– On a more practical note, Drew Galloway is correct: We need to be talking to local election officials to get them to agree to try to fix these problems in advance. The court didn’t say that they couldn’t do this, just that they didn’t have to. Well, if it’s a choice, then let’s make sure they make the right choice.

That’s all I’ve got. This effing court. The Chron has more.

Paxton accuses his accusers

Well, that’s one way to do it.

Best mugshot ever

In Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton’s first interview since seven of top aides accused him of accepting bribes and abusing his office, he said Tuesday that he was about to put one of them, first assistant attorney general Jeff Mateer, on administrative leave when Mateer made those accusations and resigned instead.

“I think he found out about it and decided he wanted to leave and set the narrative,” Paxton told the Southeast Texas Record.

Paxton also told the paper that he has placed two remaining executive employees — David Maxwell, director of law enforcement, and Mark Penley, deputy AG for criminal justice, who were among his seven accusers — on administrative leave while he investigates their actions.

Paxton’s statements on Tuesday provide the public’s first glimpse into how he is handling the matter inside the office of the Attorney General, where more than half of the executive staff has accused him of committing crimes.

[…]

In his interview Tuesday, Paxton reiterated his counterclaims against the whistleblowers, saying that they were trying to impede a legitimate investigation of the law enforcement agencies.

“It seems like my office did everything possible to stop an investigation of some law enforcement agencies,” Paxton said. “I can only come to the conclusion that there was an effort to cover up the reality of what really happened. This wasn’t supposed to be a complicated investigation.”

[…]

Paxton also backed accusations by Paul’s attorney, Michael Wynne, who said in a letter released late Sunday that Maxwell, a former Texas Ranger, berated Paul for even bringing the complaint. Paxton said he watched a video of the meeting between Maxwell and Paul.

“It was not a good interview — it was pretty harsh,” he said. “It was clear he had no interest in doing an investigation.”

In the interview, Paxton said Mateer also insisted that the attorney general did not have the authority to sign contracts and that only he, as first assistant, did. Paxton said he reviewed support documentation provided by Mateer and found it to be false.

“I don’t know why there’s so much turmoil over this investigation. I’m not impugning every law enforcement agent,” Paxton said. “We all should be held accountable. We all have to follow the law.”

Well, he was going to defend himself one way or another, and given what the accusations were, a defense of “no, they’re the real criminals” seems like the best option. That would then lead to the question of how it is Paxton managed to hire so many bad actors for high-ranking positions in his office, but that’s a problem for another day. For now, keeping his own ass out of trouble is the main goal.

Here we must pause and note that so far all we know is there were a bunch of accusations leveled against Paxton. We don’t know if there’s an investigation into the actions he’s alleged to have taken, much less if he did do the things he’s accused of. We do know that his accusers are fellow travelers in conservative circles, and that former Paxton lieutenant Chip Roy sided with them. We know that folks like Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick and John Cornyn have been in full “wait and see” mode, which may suggest that they genuinely don’t know what to make of all this, or that they’ve heard enough scuttlebutt to think there’s something to it, but they’re either not ready to throw Paxton overboard, or they’re seeking a more graceful way out of this mess. A lot of information has come out so far, none of which looks great for Paxton, but nothing yet that would force him to resign. That may be what this is like for awhile, and then either the feds do something to make it clear they’re going after him, or we get a press release saying he’s in the clear. Until then, this is what we have to sustain ourselves.

Well, there’s also this.

[Brandon] Cammack declined to answer questions about his work for the agency or speculate as to why Paxton called him about the job. But said he “rose to the occasion” in accepting a major assignment from the state’s top lawyer and that the fallout has been “unexpected.”

“When one of the highest elected officials in the state reached out to me to go conduct this investigation, knowing what my background and knowing what my experience was, with regards to state law claims… I took it seriously,” Cammack told The Texas Tribune Tuesday.

“I don’t know anything about office politics… I don’t know anything about [the relationship] between people. I was called to duty. I showed up for duty,” he said.

Cammack’s work for the attorney general’s office has ended, though he said it was “beyond” him to know if the review would go forward in someone else’s hands.

[…]

Legal experts have questioned the precise nature of Cammack’s job — Paxton described him as both an “outside independent prosecutor” and as “independent counsel” — and asked how he was able to issue subpoenas that aides said “related to private business concerns of Nate Paul.”

They also raised concerns that Cammack — who is connected to [Nate Paul’s attorney Michael] Wynne through their involvement in the Downtown Rotary Club of Houston and the Houston Bar Association — lacked the experience for such a high-profile assignment.

Cammack said the subpoenas were issued by a Travis County judge and that he never went before a grand jury. He submitted an application for subpoenas to the Travis County district attorney’s office and they assisted in getting them issued, he said. He declined to answer other questions about the subpoenas, including which judge issued them, and his role.

Cammack also disputed the notion that he lacked experience, saying he’d had a “successful practice” in Houston for about two and a half years, handling primarily criminal defense work. His investigation for the attorney general’s office centered on violations of the Texas penal code — “something I’m very well versed in having handled hundreds of cases for hundreds of families here in Harris County and contiguous counties.”

He said he was “not friends” with Wynne, but declined to say why Wynne was present when at least one subpoena was delivered. He also would not specify Paxton’s involvement in his work or provide specifics about his investigation.

Cammack said he was interviewed for the outside counsel position on Aug. 26 by Paxton and Mateer. He declined to provide specifics about the conversation, but said he understood there were a few other candidates for the job, and that Paxton asked about his educational and professional history.

A few days later, Cammack received a call from Ryan Vassar, deputy attorney general for legal counsel, about his contract, he said. Signed in early September, the agreement says Cammack would be paid $300 an hour to investigate a complaint and compile a report about any potential criminal charges. It did not give him the authority to indict or prosecute, and said he could work only as directed by the office of the Attorney General.

Cammack’s work on the case largely ended in late September when he received a cease and desist letter from Penley, the deputy attorney general for criminal justice, and then Mateer.

I mean, we still don’t know much, but what we do know just looks sketchy. And so we wait for more.

Nate Paul strikes back

Just when I think this can’t get any better.

Best mugshot ever

When Ken Paxton announced Friday his office was dropping the investigation into an Austin real estate investor’s claims of mistreatment during a federal raid of his home and business, the attorney general may have hoped the questions swirling around his relationship with Nate Paul would dissipate.

But a letter released late Sunday by Paul’s attorney that appears to be laying the foundation for a lawsuit against Paxton’s office dispelled any notion the controversy would go away soon.

[…]

Until now, Paul and his attorney, Michael Wynne, have remained mostly silent. But Sunday’s letter, in which Wynne demands that the attorney general’s office preserve documents related to the investor’s contact with Paxton’s office, flips that narrative.

In it, Wynne asserts that, far from helping his client’s cause, deep dysfunction inside Paxton’s office scuttled his client’s legitimate claim of abuse at the hands of federal investigators and has led to “A chaotic public spectacle of allegations.”

In Wynne’s telling, investigators’ behavior during the August 2019 raid against Paul were “among the most egregious examples of inappropriate behavior by government officials that I have witnessed in my professional experience.” The searchers tampered with records and then gave testimony contradicted by documents, he wrote.

Paul took his complaints to District Attorney Margaret Moore, who advised him that Paxton’s office was the correct agency to conduct any investigation of wrongdoing on the part of the searchers, including the FBI. But when Paul detailed his complaints, Paxton’s staff was dismissive and abusive, Wynne wrote.

At a July meeting, Paul’s team was “met with open hostility,” Wynne wrote. Paxton’s director of law enforcement, David Maxwell, “berated and insulted my client for bringing the complaint.”

Wynne said additional meetings with Paxton’s staff yielded the same “hostile attitude.”

Paxton personally attended a third meeting, Wynne wrote. At it, Paul demonstrated that the attorney general’s review of his complaint had been cursory and contained several errors, and that “this appeared to be an embarrassment to your office,” Wynne recounted in the letter.

Oh, my. Paul and his attorney are mad about the way Paxton’s office handled his demand for an investigation into the way he was treated by the feds, whom you will recall were investigating him for various alleged financial misdeeds. The seven senior members of Paxton’s staff found Paul’s complaint to be without merit, and the fact that Paxton proceeded – including the hire of the inexperienced and unqualified Brandon Cammack – is what led to them sending Paxton a letter alleging that he was taking a bribe. Maybe this is Paul’s way of saying he expected better service at that price.

The Trib adds some details.

Wynne’s letter places the blame for the debacle on the attorney general’s office, alleging top aides there failed to investigate his client’s claims as they should have and “deprived [Paul] of a proper review.”

“The mishandling of this complaint as outlined below has risen to an alarming level,” Wynne wrote in the letter, which also demands that the agency retain all related documents and files in preparation for potential litigation.

[…]

Wynne questioned the attorney general’s office’s basis for closing the inquiry, accused employees in the attorney general’s office of making “numerous inappropriate and false statements to the media” and said their handling of Paul’s complaint culminated in a “chaotic public spectacle of allegations, mudslinging, and an apparent power struggle” within the agency last week.

Top aides to Paxton have said internal investigations showed that Paul’s complaint lacks “any good-faith factual basis” and have accused their boss of serving a donor’s interest by hiring an outside attorney to pursue it.

Wynne said the circumstances of the federal search were “among the most egregious examples of inappropriate behavior by government officials” that he had witnessed.

In May 2020, Paul “sought guidance on the protocol for reporting a complaint” about the search and was told by Paxton to file it with the Travis County district attorney’s office.

The next month, the district attorney’s office referred the complaint back to Paxton’s agency after determining it would be “inappropriate” to send it to the Department of Public Safety, which was named in the complaint.

Wynne said “seven weeks of inaction” were followed by a series of meetings between him, Paul and officials in the attorney general’s office, whom he accused of being “hostile.”

At a meeting on July 21, the attorney general’s director of law enforcement, David Maxwell, “berated and insulted” Paul for bringing the complaint and attempted to intimidate them into dropping the matter, Wynne alleged.

He wrote that Maxwell and another top official — Mark Penley, one of the signatories on the letter about Paxton — attended a second meeting, in which Maxwell at one point yelled at Paul and asked “who [does] he think he is?”

At a third meeting, personally attended by Paxton, the review was found to be flawed and “appeared to be an embarrassment to your office,” Wynne alleged.

The Karen-like “I want to speak to your manager” energy out of this is strong, isn’t it? I’m dying for them to file a lawsuit against the AG’s office over this, because discovery is sure to be a hoot. The capacity this scandal has had to surprise and amaze me has been quite the source of joy these past few days.

And speaking of Brandon Cammack, the Paxton special prosecutors have some thoughts – and a motion – about how much Paxton paid him.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that $300 an hour is too much to pay the two special prosecutors appointed to take him to trial in a long-running felony securities fraud case — but that’s the rate his agency is paying the inexperienced attorney Paxton hired last month to investigate a complaint by a political donor.

[…]

The prosecutors, Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer, pointed out that irony in a spirited filing Friday before Harris County District Judge Jason Luong, asking that they be compensated at the same rate as Cammack, whom they dismissed as “an untested and unqualified rookie.”

“If this hourly rate sounds familiar, it should: it is the very rate the Pro Tems were promised when they were appointed,” they wrote in a Friday filing. “If the defendant’s choice to pay Cammack $300 an hour appears to be disingenuous, it is only because it is: in successfully derailing this prosecution by spearheading a concerted effort to defund it, the defendant has repeatedly referred to the Pro Tem’s $300 hourly rate in his filings as unreasonable and unwarranted.”

Wice and Schaffer, who told the court that between them, they have 80 years of experience in the criminal justice system, questioned why they should not be entitled to the same sum as Cammack, “whose own experience, training and expertise, compared to the Pro Tems, is virtually microscopic.”

Paxton can “run but not hide” from his “concession that $300 an hour is reasonable,” Wice and Schaffer argued.

In their own filing to the court, Paxton’s defense attorneys told the judge that Cammack’s contract is irrelevant to the issue of pay for the prosecutors.

[…]

The issue of prosecutor pay in the securities fraud case against Paxton was raised by a Paxton donor, Jeff Blackard, in December 2015, when he sued, calling the fees exorbitant. Since then, the issue has dragged through the courts for years, bouncing all the way up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest court for criminal matters.

Paxton’s defense attorneys told Luong he should rely on the high court’s ruling — which found the $300 hourly rate fell outside legal limits — in determining how much Wice and Schaffer should be paid.

Nothing in the prosecutors’ filing, “which contains unsubstantiated gossip about an irrelevant matter and no legal argument, authorizes this court to disregard the holding of the CCA and grant the relief requested by the pro tems,” Paxton’s attorneys wrote.

I don’t know if Wice and Schaffer’s motion can be a justification to essentially overturn that CCA ruling, but it certainly shows (again) why that ruling was ridiculous, and why the current system for hiring special prosecutors is fundmentally flawed. They may not be able to do more than score political points, but even just a reminder of how much Paxton has been coddled and protected by his political buddies all these years is useful. The Chron and Rick Casey, who notes a connection between Michael Wynne and Brandon Cammack, has more.