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Ken Paxton

A Paxton threefer

Law professor Quinn Yeargain points out something I’ve not seen discussed elsewhere.

A crook any way you look

But for both ambitious Texas politicians waiting in the wings and eagle-eyed election observers, one of the most important questions is likely who will succeed Paxton if he’s removed—and how they’ll be selected.

It’s worth noting at the outset that there are two vacancies to consider. The first vacancy occurred automatically upon Paxton’s impeachment. Under the state constitution, impeached officials are automatically suspended when they are impeached—and they either regain their office upon their acquittal or they never return. The second vacancy is speculative, and would only occur if Paxton is actually removed from office.

[…]

Under the Texas Constitution, a vacancy in a “State office,” like Attorney General, is filled by a gubernatorial nomination made with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, and the nominee serves until the next general election. Owing to a 1991 constitutional amendment, there are lots of specific requirements for how this process plays out if the Senate is in recess—which may not actually come into play depending on when the Governor would make such an appointment. (That is, if the Senate was just in session for Paxton’s trial, it would make sense to then promptly consider the Governor’s Attorney General nominee.)

But whenever the Senate considers the nomination, the nominee can only be confirmed with a two-thirds vote. While many gubernatorial nominees in Texas are considered to be non-controversial—Secretary of State Jane Nelson was confirmed unanimously earlier this year, for example—Democrats might balk at an Attorney General nominee put forward by Abbott. They might very well insist that any such nominee serve in a caretaker capacity until the 2024 special election. (Of course, this assumes that (1) Texas Democrats in the Senate would actually hold their ground and (2) that any nominee palatable to them would actually be able to win a Republican primary anyway.)

In any event, a 2024 special election would be held to fill the remaining two years of Paxton’s term. Somewhat surprisingly, vacancies in statewide elected offices are fairly uncommon in Texas. Of the executive-branch offices, the Railroad Commission—which, for the uninitiated, doesn’t actually regulate railroads—has been the source of the vast majority of statewide special elections. In fact, there hasn’t been a special election for any other statewide office since 1862!

Unless the Senate’s trial of Paxton takes months and months, the 2024 special would play out just like any other general election would that year. The filing deadline for the 2024 election is December 11, 2023, and under state law, so long as the vacancy occurs “on or before the 10th day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the general primary ballot”—so, by December 1, 2023—the office will see both a primary and general election unfold as normal.

I skipped the discussion of the first appointment, as Greg Abbott has since installed former SOS John Scott into that position; Yeargain’s post was written prior to that. What interests me is what might happen in the event that Paxton is convicted by the Senate. Forget the odds of that for a minute and just go along with this. I knew that Abbott would appoint a replacement, and I’ve discussed the opportunity for Dems that could provide. What I hadn’t thought about before I read this was that Abbott’s appointed AG would still need to be confirmed by the Senate, with a two-thirds vote. Which means at least two Dems would have to support whoever he picks, or else he has to pick again.

At least, that’s my reading of the relevant Constitutional text, which quickly gets bogged down in numerous scenarios involving whether or not the Senate is in recess or a special session, which is where we are now. For sure, this person would be on the ballot in 2024, and would have to make it through a primary if they wanted the job fulltime. Whether Dems should agitate for a caretaker or try to influence Abbott’s pick in some other way is a question we can defer for now, but I feel reasonably confident that they will be unified. There’s no Eddie Lucios in this Senate, so while there may be some differences of opinion on strategy, no one is going to just embrace whoever Abbott picks.

Moving on, that settlement agreement that Paxton had with those whistleblowers is almost certainly toast now.

To a layperson it might seem obvious that if the Legislature declined to approve the payment outlined in the settlement agreement and voted to impeach Paxton instead, in part because the OAG made the agreement for shysterish reasons, then the settlement agreement is no longer in effect. Surely there’s some fancy legal principle that shoots down the OAG’s argument. Nullus felix equus cacas, perhaps? We put that question to two lawyers with expertise in employment and whistleblower law, and while our Latin is iffy and tasteless, the principal is clear: The settlement agreement is dead.

Settlements are contracts, Austin Kaplan with the Kaplan Law Firm told us. If the settlement is contingent upon money being paid but none is forthcoming, then the settlement agreement is no longer in effect. In this case, “the Legislature says no, no, and hell no, and impeaches the attorney general,” then obviously the contingency included in the settlement agreement hasn’t been met.

Michael Maslanka, an associate professor at the UNT-Dallas College of Law, said much the same: “The settlement agreement was contingent upon the Legislature, therefore the settlement agreement is off, full-stop.”

Maslanka said it’s a rule in law that courts give a “reasonable interpretation” of the language in contracts in order to achieve the intent of making the agreements. In this case the intent was to settle the case now, “not in 2040.”

If the Supreme Court agrees that the settlement agreement is no longer in effect, then it’s free to rule on the OAG’s original appeal, the one that put the brakes on the case. In it, the OAG argues that Texas’ Whistleblower Act, intended to protect government employees who report wrongdoing by their bosses from retaliation, applies only to actions by state agencies themselves and public employees. Whatever bad things Paxton might have done weren’t done by the agency itself, the OAG’s argument goes, and Paxton is a different species of fish. He’s an elected official, no mere public employee, an argument Maslanka described as “a distinction without a difference.” (A non-lawyer might simply ask, “So where’s ol’ Ken drawing his paycheck from, then?”)

Judge Karin Crump of the 250th District Court in Austin, where the original case was filed, rejected the OAG’s argument about the scope of the Whistleblower Act, as did the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Austin.

“We decline to adopt the interpretation of the Act proposed by the Office of the Attorney General of Texas (OAG), which would have the effect of stripping whistleblower protections from employees who might report misconduct by the thousands of elected officials throughout the State — particularly by those who direct and lead the agencies of this State,” the appellate court wrote.

Kaplan said the notion that the Whistleblower Act was not intended to apply to the very people with the most power to both commit bad acts and punish those who report them “would make absolutely no sense … If the law were to protect anything, it would apply to these set of circumstances.”

See here and here for a bit of background on the matter still pending before SCOTx. Suffice to say, I agree with this interpretation of the Texas Whistleblower Act and have written as much in the past. The main point here is that Paxton’s days of fighting this in court will resume, and may continue on for some time barring a bad ruling from the Supremes. If that happens, whatever the outcome in the Senate, I wouldn’t count on any further settlement offers.

And finally, just a reminder, there’s no evil billionaire like an evil Texas billionaire.

Political activists financed by two billionaire oilmen — famous for backing right wing Republicans — are riding like cavalry to save suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton from a scalping in the Texas Senate.

Billionaires Tim Dunn and Ferris Wilks are arguably the most influential donors to right wing candidates and causes in Texas, funneling tens of millions of dollars to political action committees and candidates that espouse their religious-right and anti-public-school agenda.

Dunn, CEO of drilling company CrownQuest Operating, and Wilks, who sold his fracking company, are the largest donors to Defend Texas Liberty PAC, one of Paxton’s largest campaign financiers, according to public records. The billionaires gave the PAC more than $10 million of the $11 million it has raised from 2020-2022. The PAC passed $1.25 million of that money, along with a loan for $750,000, to Paxton.

Dunn, Wilks and Defend Texas Liberty together also gave former state Rep. Bryan Slaton $223,000 as three of his four largest donors. The Texas House expelled Slaton last month for plying a 19-year-old staffer with alcohol and having sex with her.

Defend Texas Liberty is managed by former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, who, alongside Republican Party of Texas Chair Matt Rinaldi, was a founding director of another PAC called Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. That group, which is not required to disclose donors, was founded by conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, long considered the enforcer of right wing orthodoxy in Austin. Dunn and Wilks are widely reported to finance Sullivan’s activities.

These are the people who give deplorables a bad name. Read the rest if you feel the need to make yourself angry.

UPDATE: Since I drafted this, there have been some reports that have claimed to identify Ken Paxton’s alleged mistress. I’m queasy enough about the sourcing of this to not want to include her name here, but those reports are out there and I figure someone will mention them in the comments if I don’t at least acknowledge their existence. Do what you will with this information.

Paxton not feeling the love in Collin County

Poor baby.

A crook any way you look

When the Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton in the waning days of a regular legislative session, some Texans were shocked that the 121 “yes” votes included every representative from Collin County, where voters and local leaders have long rallied behind the now-suspended official’s vocal brand of conservatism.

The booming, largely suburban county north of Dallas has been Paxton’s base of power as he climbed the state’s political ranks, from his first race for the Texas House to becoming the state’s top lawyer. And while changing demographics and some erosion in Republican voting power there have coincided with allegations and scandals that piled up for Paxton, Collin County has still swung for him election after election.

But a unanimous vote to impeach Paxton by the five Republican representatives from Collin County — Frederick Frazier of McKinney, Jeff Leach of Plano, Matt Shaheen of Plano, Justin Holland of Rockwall and Candy Noble of Lucas — exposed a statewide rift within the GOP that’s apparently also been playing out in Paxton’s backyard.

“It has been true that Paxton had the support of Collin County, but that support has been decreasing over the years, and when the crunch came, it was simply no longer there,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University who lives in Collin County.

A Texas attorney general has never been impeached. For years, though, a laundry list of accusations against Paxton has grown. He’s been under criminal indictment for the vast majority of his tenure in statewide office. The allegations detailed in 20 articles of impeachment accuse him of abusing the powers of his office and firing staff members who reported his alleged misconduct.

In a joint statement after the historic House impeachment vote, the Collin County legislative delegation noted Paxton’s established political credentials but also stood by their decision to impeach and suspend one of their own.

“This was an incredibly difficult vote as, for most of us, Ken has been a long time friend,” they said. “And without question, Ken has been an aggressive and effective warrior defending Texans against federal overreach. Because of that, this was a vote we wish we didn’t have to make and a vote we did not take lightly.”

[…]

The former chair of the Collin County Democratic Party, Mike Rawlins, said the county GOP has helped to insulate Ken Paxton from the fallout of his various scandals.

“The Republican leadership in [Collin] County, from the county courthouse, the judges, the commissioners, state representatives, senators and district attorney, have been a close-knit, closed little fraternity,” he said. “They tend to watch out for each other.”

Jillson, the SMU professor, said as long as Ken Paxton has majority support within the Republican primary electorate, he will continue to win elections. But Jillson noted that the suspended attorney general has struggled to keep support as questions “swirled” around his political and business dealings.

“At some point, the questions about your style, your conduct, your ethical sense, accumulate and become perhaps a drag on your Republican Party and your state,” Jillson said. “And that’s where Ken Paxton is today, with other Republicans recalculating the costs and benefits of standing with him.”

[…]

Since the 1970s, the county has voted Republican in the majority of presidential, state and local races.

But in recent years, the changing population has made Collin County a political battleground.

Since Paxton won his first election in Collin County, it’s been transformed through an influx of younger, more diverse residents, growing by more than 36% from 2000 to 2020, according to census data. The county’s Hispanic, Black and Asian populations have collectively grown from 15% in 2000 to 26% in 2020, while the white population has shrunk from 76% to 50% over the same period.

Paxton’s support has decreased in Collin County over his past three elections for attorney general. In 2014, he won with 66% of the county’s vote. In 2018, that decreased to about 53%, and in his last election in 2022, 52% of Collin County voters cast their ballots for him, according to secretary of state records.

I noted the unanimous Collin County vote against Paxton on Impeachment Day. It’s still one of my favorite things about this saga. I definitely think the change of Collin from a bright red county to a lightly reddish purple county is a big driver of this. In addition to the Paxton numbers noted above, the Presidential numbers went from 65% Romney in 2012 to 56% for Trump in 2016 to 51% for Trump in 2020. And despite the Collin County State House districts being redrawn to fortify the Republican incumbents, none of them are particularly safe:

HD61 – Trump 53.0%, Biden 45.2% — Paxton 54.2%, Garza 42.4%
HD66 – Trump 53.1%, Biden 45.2% — Paxton 55.4%, Garza 42.2%
HD67 – Trump 53.5%, Biden 44.6% — Paxton 54.9%, Garza 42.5%
HD89 – Trump 54.5%, Biden 43.5% — Paxton 55.7%, Garza 40.7%

Those are 2020 and 2022 numbers. It’s not at all crazy to think that Joe Biden could carry Collin County in a 2024 rematch, and if so, that could put any or all of those incumbents in danger. Given that, it seems like a perfectly rational decision to separate themselves from the deeply compromised Ken Paxton, for the small amount of bipartisan sheen they’ll get from doing so.

And given that, as the story briefly notes, Paxton’s years-long fight to have his state securities fraud trial in Collin County might end up being one of the great self-owns of our time. The jury pool in Collin County that he might draw 2024 or 2025 would likely be at best neutral towards him. I’m too lazy to look up when the trial was first moved to Harris County, but the Harris County of 2016-2017 was still considered purple and probably wouldn’t have been all that much more hostile to him than that. In either place, a lot more people now think he’s a crook than did years ago, when he could have had a speedy trial. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.

Impeachment in the Senate

Long Trib story about what to expect when the Senate finally takes up the impeachment trial of Ken Paxton.

A crook any way you look

The Senate plans to consider impeachment rules on June 20 and to start the trial by Aug. 28.

Yet there are a lot of unknowns, and the Senate is keeping quiet. The GOP presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, promised Tuesday that Paxton will get a fair trial but otherwise declined to give an opinion on the matter.

“Don’t ask me any more questions because I can’t answer them,” Patrick said during an event with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Look at me like a judge before a case and look at our senators like that. Be respectful of their space and time. This is very serious. There are very serious people, and the Senate is going to do our job in a professional way.”

[…]

Paxton’s office seems to have already irked the prosecution by reportedly delivering a packet to senators’ office outlining his defense. Rep. Ann Johnson, the Houston Democrat and vice chair of the board of managers, said Tuesday she expects Paxton to “realize that dropping a binder on your potential jurors could be considered tampering or attempting to interfere with a lawful process.”

After Saturday’s House voted to impeach Paxton, several Republican senators issued nearly identical statements saying they were taking a vow of silence on the trial. They said they “welcome and encourage” feedback from constituents but added that they cannot “communicate directly” about the case.

Senate Democrats are also staying tight-lipped. The head of the Democratic caucus, Sen. Carol Alvarado of Houston, declined to comment Wednesday. Another Democratic senator, Austin’s Sarah Eckhardt, noted in a statement Wednesday that during the last impeachment trial, the rules banned senators from discussing the matter with anyone beyond themselves and the Senate’s presiding.

“Please be assured that I am committed to fulfilling my constitutional duty, including my duty to act as an impartial juror in weighing the facts and merits of the case,” Eckhardt said.

[…]

Before the Senate can conduct the trial, it has to set rules for the trial — and the Texas Constitution gives the chamber wide latitude to do so.

“The [Paxton] impeachment trial rules could be key,” Ross Garber, a nationally known impeachment lawyer, tweeted Thursday. “Watch, for example, to see whether they allow for discovery/depositions by Paxton or require disclosure of investigative info by the House.”

On Monday, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution allowing Patrick to name a seven-member committee to devise trial rules. They will present proposed rules to the full Senate on June 20, according to the resolution. It is unclear if they will vote on approving them the same day.

The committee that Patrick named is majority Republican — there are only two Democrats — and its chair, Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, is an ally of the lieutenant governor. He currently leads two other Senate committees, including one on border security.

The team that will present the case against Paxton appears aware how important the Senate rules could be.

“I hope that as they develop [the rules] and as we go forward, we are going to have a full, public hearing that allows both sides to present the evidence that allows the public and the world to know just what happened here,” Hardin said Thursday.

Depending on the rules, a big question for Paxton is who should testify, including the attorney general himself. Rep. Carl Tepper, a Lubbock Republican who voted to impeach, said Thursday that trial testimony would be fraught with legal risk for Paxton.

“He needs to have a fair trial in the Senate but realize that in this fair trial, he gets to testify or his people get to testify on his behalf, and that is all admissible in criminal and civil cases,” Tepper told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty. “He’s in a lot of trouble, he’s in a big mess, because I think there’s a lot there.”

Yes, I think who testifies and about what has the potential to be a very big deal. As Rep. Tepper notes, people could put themselves at risk in a number of ways. Attorney Garber adds an interesting bit of speculation as well.

Hey, Rusty Hardin promised me that what we don’t yet know is a lot worse than what we do currently know. And as the comments to my post from yesterday about Paxton’s defense team point out, they will be in violation of State Bar rules if they have reason to believe they could be called as witnesses. I’ll bet there’s a lot of material in the AG’s files. And I can’t wait to find out.

I don’t have anything to add other than go read the rest. And when you’re done, since we’ve met Paxton’s defense team and we know who the lead prosecutors are, go read about the House impeachment managers who will be working with those prosecutors. This summer is going to be amazing. And on that note, and in tune with my hope for maxiumum Republican discord, please enjoy the following tweets.

Keep up the good work, y’all.

Paxton’s defense team

I feel slightly weird about this.

A crook any way you look

Six top officials and employees at the Texas attorney general’s office have taken a leave of absence to help defend suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton in his impeachment trial this summer.

Those employees are solicitor general Judd Stone, the agency’s top appellate lawyer; assistant solicitors general Joseph N. Mazzara and Kateland Jackson; Chris Hilton, chief of the general litigation division; senior attorney Allison Collins; and executive assistant Jordan Eskew.

The news was first reported by the conservative website The Daily Wire. Jarrod Griffin, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, confirmed the report to The Texas Tribune.

Prior to Tuesday, it was unclear who would serve as Paxton’s lawyers in the impeachment trial before the Texas Senate.

I can’t fully articulate why this feels weird to me. I just didn’t expect his employees to be the ones taking on the task of defending him in the Senate. I guess I assumed he’d hire a couple of high-priced private attorneys, who would most likely be financed by his fat cat supporters. That’s icky in its own way, while this is almost heartwarming – they’re loyal enough to go without pay for some number of weeks to save his bacon! – and yet it still just has strange vibes to me. We don’t have the Senate rules yet about the trial, but this would seem to be within whatever those rules turn out to be. Is it weird that I think this is weird? I assume these people were all hand-picked by Paxton and would likely move on if they fail. Maybe I’m just overthinking it. What do you think? Oh, and how do you think they feel about going up against these guys?

While you ponder that, here’s a Chron story about the guy who had been temporarily filling in for Paxton as AG.

The Attorney General’s Office has announced that First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster will be the temporary replacement for Ken Paxton, who was impeached by the Texas House last week.

As first assistant attorney general, Webster represented Texas taxpayers in Paxton’s lawsuit that sought to overturn the 2020 election results for Donald Trump.

Webster started working for the office at a tumultuous time in October 2020, shortly after eight top aides reported Paxton to law enforcement, accusing him of taking bribes and abusing the authority of his office. Paxton fired the whistleblowers and hired new department heads, including Webster.

[…]

In December 2020, Webster signed his name to an unsuccessful suit filed by Paxton before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s presidential wins in four battleground states.

The State Bar of Texas later sued Paxton and Webster for professional misconduct for his part in the suit, arguing that it made dishonest and misleading statements about the existence of voter fraud, including many that had already been debunked in other courts in the country. The case against Paxton is ongoing, and a judge dismissed the case against Webster, though the bar is appealing.

Top Republicans have come to their defense, with Abbott saying the case “raise(s) separation-of-powers questions under our Constitution” and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calling it “politically motivated.”

The whistleblowers in their suit are seeking $15,000 in civil damages against Webster, as well as Paxton, for adverse personnel action taken in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act. According to the suit, Webster had a role in firing all four and is accused of using intimidation tactics and pressuring some of them to resign.

I drafted this before the news about John Scott’s appointment as temporary AG, so this is less important now. Maybe the upside of Scott as temporary AG is that the agency, which does have basic operational things to do, is now being led by someone who’s not a close personal friend of Ken Paxton and might have something on their mind other than getting him off on the impeachment charges. Just a thought.

Anyway. We’ve discussed the State Bar’s actions against Webster before. I believe this is the first report I’ve seen that the judge’s ruling dismissing the case has been appealed; I’m delighted to see that. Beyond that, Brent Webster is to me basically like Angela Paxton, in that his moral qualities are severely limited by his voluntary association with Ken Paxton. We kind of already know everything we need to know about him. And now we can worry a little bit less about it.

DeGuerin and Hardin to prosecute Paxton

Wow.

A crook any way you look

Prominent lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin will serve as lead prosecutors for the Texas House in the Senate impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The two Houston-based defense attorneys, introduced at a Capitol news conference Thursday, are legends in their own right, having separately represented a litany of high-profile athletes, celebrities and politicians in criminal and civil investigations.

DeGuerin defended former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay against charges that he illegally funneled corporate donations to members of the Texas Legislature in 2002. DeLay was found guilty, but his conviction was overturned on appeal.

[…]

Hardin is on a short list of attorneys named “Texas Legal Legends” by the State Bar of Texas’ litigation section and, before opening a private practice two decades ago, served 15 years as a prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney’s office.

At a brief news conference on Thursday, Hardin and DeGuerin noted that together they have more than 100 years of legal experience and said it was an honor to represent the House in Paxton’s trial, which has not been scheduled but will occur before Aug. 28, according to a resolution recently adopted by the Senate.

The two said their job was to be transparent as they lay out all of the allegations against Paxton so senators, who will sit as a jury, as well as members of the public can decide for themselves if Paxton deserves to be permanently removed from office.

“The people of the state of Texas are entitled to know whether their top cop is a crook,” DeGuerin said. “We know the importance of transparency in these proceedings because the people have a right to know.”

Hardin said he “shocked” by the allegations against Paxton that were detailed in the 20 articles of impeachment. “This is not about a one time misuse of office,” he said. “This is not about a two-time misuse of office. It’s about a pattern of misconduct.”

He added: “I promise you it is 10 times worse than what has been public.”

That sound you hear is me fanning myself. That may be hyperbole, but still – inject it directly into my veins. I know we’re still a couple months out, but I am ready for this trial to begin. Here’s a Chron op-ed from State Rep. Andrew Murr about why Republicans should want to impeach Paxton if you want more.

Abbott names former SOS John Scott as temporary AG

I honestly wasn’t sure he was going to bother with this.

A crook any way you look

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday appointed Fort Worth lawyer and former Secretary of State John Scott as interim Texas attorney general, temporarily replacing Ken Paxton, who was suspended as attorney general pending the outcome of an impeachment trial in the state Senate.

Scott previously served as deputy attorney general for civil litigation when Abbott led that office. He has more than 34 years of legal experience and has argued more than 100 cases in state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. After leaving the attorney general’s office, he was appointed chief operating officer of the state Health and Human Services Commission, overseeing 56,000 employees and a budget of $50 billion.

“John Scott has the background and experience needed to step in as a short-term interim Attorney General during the time the Attorney General has been suspended from duty,” Abbott said in a statement. “He served under me in the Texas Attorney General’s Office and knows how the Office of the Attorney General operates.”

Abbott tapped Scott to serve as secretary of state in October 2021. Before leaving the job in December 2022, Scott oversaw elections and struggled to simultaneously assure the public that Texas elections were secure while mollifying those, including supporters of former President Donald Trump, who alleged widespread fraud.

Many feared Scott would be amenable to Trump’s argument that the 2020 election was riddled with fraud because Scott briefly represented the former president in a lawsuit challenging the election results in Pennsylvania.

But a 2020 audit of results in four of the largest Texas counties that Scott managed found no widespread fraud or voting irregularities. Local elections administrators, many in populous Democratic counties, praised him for defending their work at a time when they had increasingly come under partisan attack.

I’ve said a few things about John Scott in the past, and I stand by them. But having said them, it is important to remember that we are now comparing him not to the AG we want and deserve, but to the AG we had and the guy who was filling in for him before now. By that measure, he mostly merits a shrug and a “meh, could have been worse”. He’ll be on the job for maybe four months max, so he’s more substitute teacher than anything else. I suppose Abbott could appoint him as the replacement if Paxton gets convicted by the Senate, but I don’t see him as the top choice there. On a side note, I wonder if previous-temporary-AG Brent Webster was caught by surprise by this. A little drama in these matters is never unwelcome. Anyway, this is fine, as far as “fine” goes these days. TPM and Reform Austin have more.

What will Angela do?

This is a good and balanced article about one of the people who will sit in judgment of Ken Paxton in the Texas Senate: his wife, Angela Paxton.

Sen. Angela Paxton

When it came time for the high school teacher and guidance counselor to launch her own political career, a $2 million loan from her husband propelled Angela Paxton to a narrow victory for a state Senate seat in the booming Dallas suburbs. Once elected, she filed bills to expand his office’s powers, and approved budgets over his state agency and salary.

Now, Sen. Paxton is a key figure in the next phase of Ken Paxton’s historic impeachment: as a “juror” in a Senate trial that could put her husband back in office or banish him permanently.

It’s a role that raises an ethical cloud over the Senate proceeding. State law compels all senators to attend, but is silent on whether she must participate.

“If it were a trial in the justice system, she would be completely required to (step aside),” said Kenneth Williams, professor of criminal procedure at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. “It’s a clear conflict of interest.”

The trial is to start no later than Aug. 28, and it promises to be quite personal for Angela Paxton.

The 20 articles of impeachment brought against Ken Paxton include sweeping charges of abuse of office and unethical behavior. They include a bribery charge related to an extramarital affair with an aide to a state senator. Another suggested Angela Paxton was involved in the installation of $20,000 countertops at their home, paid for by a political donor.

Angela Paxton hasn’t said if she’ll recuse herself from the trial. She declined comment when approached by The Associated Press outside the Senate chamber on Monday.

State Rep. Andrew Murr, who led the impeachment investigation in the state House, declined to say if he thinks Angela Paxton should step aside. The Senate gets to set the rules, he said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tightly controls the Senate and its 19-12 Republican majority. He suggested to a Dallas television state before last week’s House impeachment vote that Angela Paxton will participate in the trial.

“I will be presiding over that case and the senators — all 31 senators — will have a vote,” Patrick told WFAA-TV. “We’ll set the rules for that trial as we go forward and we’ll see how that develops.”

The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the chamber to convict. But there is little historic precedent in drafting impeachment trial rules, and nothing with a similar spousal conflict, Williams said.

In nearly 200 years of Texas history, Ken Paxton is just the third official to be impeached and the first statewide official impeached since Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917.

There’s no legal mechanism to force Angela Paxton out of the trial like there would be a criminal trial, Williams said.

“It’s up to her ethical standards and compass, basically,” Williams said.

[…]

Mark Phariss, the Democrat who lost to Angela Paxton by 2 percentage points in 2018, noted her sharp political instincts. He predicted she won’t step aside from a trial.

“My assumption is she will not recuse herself. Because she does not seem to distance herself from her husband, either when she ran for office in 2018 initially or at any time subsequently,” Phariss said.

We’ve discussed Sen. Paxton before, and my opinion matches Mark Phariss’. Maybe – a very big maybe – Dan Patrick could gently persuade her to recuse, for the optics of it if nothing else. But first you’d have to believe that Dan Patrick would do that, and then you’d have to believe she’d listen to anyone else. I think this comment by Ted Wood, that she will ultimately not recuse but go “present, not voting”, which still leave the “convict” threshold at 21, is highly plausible. The bottom line is that there’s just no evidence to suggest that she has any inclination to do the right thing.

Which, as noted, is fine by me. Perhaps the rules team will box her out, but that remains on par with Dan Patrick trying to talk sense into her. I’ll believe it when I see it.

To be fair, she’s not the only potentially conflicted Senate juror.

The House impeachment articles accuse Paxton of using state Sen. Bryan Hughes as a “straw requestor” for a legal opinion that protected a political donor from property foreclosure.

Hughes has not addressed whether he expects to be called as a witness or if he will recuse himself. He did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

I think Sen. Hughes – who, it must be noted, is also a terrible person – has a fairly easy out here. If he’s called as a witness, he absolutely must recuse, for all the obvious reasons. It’s so obvious that I think the rules people will cover it in their work. But if not, I don’t think he’s required to step down, at least not based on what we know now. It’s credible to me that he did Paxton a favor without knowing the motive behind it. If there’s anything to suggest otherwise, then absolutely he must go, too. But until then, I think Hughes can defer the decision until his status as a potential witness is resolved.

Two thoughts on the whole impeachment thing

A crook any way you look

Let’s start with the obvious, which is the “Why now?” question. A lot of people seem to be mystified. Why, after nearly a decade of Ken Paxton’s criming, did the House General Investigations Committee decide to go all scorched earth on him now? I’ve seen some theories about it having to do with the federal investigation into Paxton and Nate Paul being taken up by the Justice Department instead of the local US Attorney, with a Twitter thread that I forgot to bookmark speculating that the House signing off on the $3.3 million settlement would somehow make House members complicit in a coverup of Paxton’s activities, since now nothing would or could come out in court. I don’t buy that – it’s not clear to me that the change of venue for the investigation means anything about its ultimate resolution, and I cannot see how any House member could be criminally liable for voting to approve that settlement and payout. If anything, it would be the whistleblowers, who are still pushing for that settlement to be ratified, who would be in danger of obstructing the feds. None of that makes any sense to me.

My best guess, as an amateur Democratic pundit who has spent zero time at the Capitol talking to people, is that it comes down to two things. I was struck by the comment made by Rep. Brian Harrison – who by the way voted against impeaching Paxton – in which he opined that “there are a large number of my colleagues who do not hold the current attorney general in very high regard”. That’s just a background condition, but it sets the stage for everything else. Once the settlement was announced and it was clear that Paxton expected the Lege to pick up the tab for his criming, I think that allowed for the investigation to begin. There was some resistance up front, but it wasn’t too much. Honestly, given the more-than-occasionally petty nature of the Legislature, I think it was when Paxton didn’t bother to address the budget committee himself about the payment that got enough people into a foul mood about the whole thing for the ball to really start rolling.

What I’m saying is this: A lot of Republicans didn’t like Ken Paxton all that much to begin with. I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but let’s accept that as fact and go from there. Those same Republicans probably don’t much care for the big-money interests that support Paxton and tend to be a threat to your typical Republican legislators, who have to deal with the possibility or actuality of those fat cats bankrolling a primary challenger to them and riling up the rubes to harass them and their staff. Taking a shot at Paxton also means sticking it to those people, and I don’t doubt for a minute that was a catalyst. Throw in that request for the $3.3 million, a penny-ante but still annoying and arrogant shit sandwich that they’re being told they need to eat, and now you have a reason for the committee to decide to take a closer look at the Nate Paul situation. Finish it off with a committee made up of people who clearly took the assignment seriously, and here we are. (*)

Am I certain of this explanation? Of course not. I have no way of knowing. But this makes sense to me, and is consistent with what we know. I am open to alternate ideas, and of course any insider information from people who do have real insight. Send me an email with whatever off-the-record dirt you want to share, I’ll be delighted to read it.

The second point I want to discuss is “What is the best possible outcome for the Democrats?” The best possible outcome for society at large is for Paxton to be convicted by the Senate, then arrested by the feds, and eventually convicted in both state and federal court before spending some number of years in jail. You know, being held accountable for his actions and all that. I’m rooting for that, but I’m also rooting for Democrats to maximize their chances of winning elections next year, because the best way to deal with the bigger picture of why the likes of Ken Paxton was able to flourish for so long begins with Democrats winning a lot more political power in this state. What needs to happen to give them that chance next year?

The short answer to that question is for Republicans to be maximally divided amongst themselves, and focusing their anger and rage and money and resources on each other. You may recall that Donald Trump, as well as the slimy insect who chairs the state GOP, are firmly on Team Paxton and have been attacking every Republican who isn’t also in that camp. Trump is attacking Greg Abbott for his silence. This is what we want.

I don’t know if a near future date for a Senate trial or one that is farther out is better for this, but I do prefer there to be a definite time frame, so everyone can get more mad as the date draws near. I can make a case for either a conviction or an acquittal in terms of the political fallout, but either way I want the vote in the Senate to be as close as possible, either 21-10 (or 20-10, if Angela Paxton is recused) for conviction, or a 20-11 failure to convict with Angela Paxton casting the saving vote. Oh, and I want the question of whether or not Angela Paxton casts a vote to be divisive as well, with Dan Patrick trying to get her to recuse and she defiantly rejects him. (Remember, Angela Paxton will be on the ballot in 2024, too.)

If we get that knife’s edge conviction – really, 20-10 with Angela Paxton seething on the sidelines is best – then we not only have Trump and the state GOP and a bunch of its big moneymen mad, with a defenestrated Ken Paxton free to vent his rage at his partymates from the cheap seats, we also have a Greg Abbott-selected AG on the ballot nest year, too. It won’t matter if he selects someone who would be objectively formidable under other circumstances, because now a significant portion of the Republican base hates that person and can focus their sense of aggrievement and betrayal on them. There would surely be a nasty primary, and who knows, maybe an effort to put an independent wingnut on the ballot as well.

Add all this up, and remember that Ted Cruz is also all in on Team Paxton, and maybe that share of Republican voters who don’t want to vote for certain specific Republicans gets a little bigger, while a portion of the hardcore dead-end Trump contingent decides they’ve been stabbed in the back one time too many and they stay home. It wouldn’t take that big a shift to put Joe Biden, Colin Allred/Roland Gutierrez, whoever runs for AG, and perhaps some number of Congressional and Legislative candidates in a winning position next year. It’s a perfect storm.

Now again, am I certain of this? Of course not. Am I maybe wishcasting just a little too hard here? For sure. But is any of this implausible? I don’t think so. A few rolls of the dice have to go well, and of course we need the overall national conditions to be reasonable and for no other earthquakes to strike. It’s also well more than a year away, and as we know that may as well be a million years in political time. I’m just saying, much of this could happen, and if it does I think it works in Democrats’ favor. Just something to think about. Let me know what you think.

(*) Yes, I know, these same legislators are responsible for these conditions that they don’t like, from the moneyed interests to the frothing-at-the-mouth primary voters who are the only ones that count to them. That doesn’t mean that they can’t find a way forward when those conditions work against them for a change.

UPDATE: We have dates now. So that’s good.

Meet your Paxton prosecutors

It’s officially handed over to the Senate now.

A crook any way you look

The Texas House on Monday named 12 of its members to prosecute its case against impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton in the state Senate.

The House announced a Republican-majority board of managers to handle the prosecution, made up of seven Republicans and five Democrats. The group immediately left the House chamber to deliver the 20 articles of impeachment to the Senate.

The House’s announcement came two days after it voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton, alleging a yearslong pattern of misconduct and wrongdoing. Paxton has blasted the impeachment as a “politically motivated sham” and expressed hope the Senate will swiftly clear his name.

The trial in the state Senate has not been scheduled yet.

The board of managers will be chaired by Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, and vice-chaired by Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston. They are also the chair and vice chair of the House General Investigating Committee, which investigated Paxton and recommended his impeachment.

The other 10 managers are Reps. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth; Joe Moody, D-El Paso; Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Jeff Leach, R-Plano; Oscar Longoria, D-Mission; Morgan Meyer, R-University Park; Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park; Cody Vasut, R-Angleton; David Spiller, R-Jacksboro; and Erin Gámez, D-Brownsville.

The managers were named after the House adopted a resolution creating the board by a vote of 136-4.

In introducing the resolution, Murr said it was “similar” to the one used in 1975 after the impeachment of a state district judge, O.P. Carrillo. The resolution, Murr said, “authorizes the employment of a board of managers so they can proceed with the presentation of the trial in the Senate.”

See here for the previous entry. The Chron has an explainer of what to expect next. The big question has been when will this all start, and now we know.

Texas Senate to convene June 20th to consider rules for Paxton trial and that trial is to start no later than August 28.

Patrick appoints committee to consider rules for the trial: Birdwell, Hinojosa, Creighton, Flores, Huffman, King, West.

I’m sure there will be more on this soon, that news broke literally as I was drafting this. Here’s a Twitter thread with a bit more info. In the meantime, expect a special session to be called more or less right away to deal with a couple of things the Lege didn’t get to. None of that is good, but it is what it is.

UPDATE: Yeah, it’s special session time, the first of more than one planned/threatened special sessions.

Post-impeachment pre-trial roundup

Some more links of interest relating to the Paxton impeachment-a-thon. I suspect that as more reporters and columnists read the House General Investigations Committee’s report we will see more stories that zoom in on the particulars of his offenses. For instance, from TPM:

A crook any way you look

At the center of the allegations are Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and contributor to Paxton’s political campaigns who fell on hard financial times.

“The most senior members of the OAG believed in good faith that Paxton was breaking the law and abusing his office to benefit himself as well as his close friend and campaign donor, Austin businessman Nate Paul, and likely the woman with whom, according to media reports, Paxton has carried on a lengthy extramarital affair,” the whistleblowers’ lawsuit, filed in November 2020, reads.

FBI agents executed search warrants on Paul’s home and office in August 2019, the lawsuit says.

From there, Paul started calling in favors with Paxton. They included him asking Paxton to execute search warrants on nearly everyone involved in the chain of events that led to Paul’s own search, including:

  • The federal magistrate who issued the warrants
  • FBI agents who executed the searches
  • The federal prosecutors who obtained the warrants
  • A federal bankruptcy judge overseeing matters involving Paul’s properties
  • An Austin charity involved in litigation with Paul

Per the lawsuit, Paul and Paxton enjoyed a cozy personal relationship as Paul made his demands. Paul allegedly hired Paxton’s mistress, which she then hid on her Linkedin profile. He gave Paxton a “major remodeling” of Paxton’s home in 2020 as well.

In exchange, Paxton used his office to undertake a series of action so egregious, the lawsuit says, “that they could only have been prompted by illicit motives such as a desire to repay debts, pay hush money, or reciprocate favors extended by Paul.”

In one instance, Paxton allegedly intervened to approve an open records request from Paul’s attorneys for records related to the FBI searches. When the records were released, Paxton allegedly “personally took the file, including all the responsive documents, which included documents sealed by a federal court, and did not return it for approximately seven to ten days.”

[…]

But arguably the most stunning allegations — substantiated by the Committee’s investigation — show how far Paxton went in trying to block the FBI’s probe.

“The OAG has approximately 400 open criminal cases and 2,000 open criminal investigations each year,” the lawsuit reads. “Paxton rarely showed an interest in any pending criminal investigations, but he showed an extraordinary interest in investigations sought by Nate Paul.”

Paxton allegedly set up a meeting with the Travis County District Attorney in an effort to have a criminal investigation into the federal prosecutors and FBI agents examining Paul opened. Specifically, Paxton wanted the officials to investigate a claim by Paul that the feds had forged a search warrant after a real one had been signed off on by a federal magistrate, thereby unlawfully gaining access.

As Attorney General officials denied that claim, Paul leaked the fact of Paxton’s investigation into his obviously false claims to the media — a winning strategy if there ever was one, but an approach which pales in comparison to what may have been the denouement of Paxton’s attempt to use his office to help his buddy out.

In September 2020, Paxton hired an attorney named Brandon Cammack as outside counsel. With five years of experience under his belt, Cammack allegedly began to investigate those investigating Paul.

Paxton purportedly claimed that he was “tired of his people not doing what he had asked,” before allegedly directing Cammack to act as a “special prosecutor.”

Per the lawsuit, Paxton empowered Cammack to act as a “special prosecutor” even though he hadn’t yet signed a contract with the Office of the Attorney General. One of the alleged whistleblowers to-be refused to sign an employment contract for Cammack; Cammack then, allegedly, at Paxton’s direction, falsely claimed to be a special prosecutor “in order to obtain grand jury subpoenas under false pretenses to investigate, harass, and intimidate Nate Paul’s perceived adversaries.”

In that mostly fake role, Cammack allegedly obtained 39 grand jury subpoenas directed at “law enforcement agents and federal prosecutors” involved in the Nate Paul investigation — much of the list that Paul initially asked Paxton to investigate.

It’s a stunning allegation of abuse of power, and one that essentially reads like a crime spree undertaken from within and with the reins of a state law enforcement agency.

All of this has been covered before, and I’ve faithfully blogged about it as well. But all this happened over the course of years, and most normal people have either forgotten it or never saw it in the first place. Now we’re going to get a greatest hits collection, all dumped in the course of a week or two. That will have an effect.

The Trib gets a lot of mileage from a conversation with committee vice chair Rep. Ann Johnson.

“No one person should be above the law — least not the top law enforcement officer of the state of Texas,” state Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, a member of the House Committee on General Investigating, told his House colleagues on Saturday.

“We should not ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen,” he said. “Texas is better than that.”

The impeachment charges centered on Paxton’s entanglement with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor whose relationship with Paxton as a friend and political donor had caused several of his staff members to report him to federal authorities and prompted an FBI investigation — which Paxton allegedly refused to help law enforcement with. Paul was fined more than $180,000 and ordered to serve jail time by a state judge after he was found in contempt of court earlier this year.

“All roads lead to Nate Paul,” state Rep. Ann Johnson, a Houston Democrat and vice chair of the investigating committee, told the chamber before outlining Paxton’s yearslong relationship with his friend.

Members of the House committee that investigated Paxton said they believed he broke the law by using the agency to serve the interests of Paul, from whom he allegedly took bribes — including when the real estate developer was sued for fraud.

Eight top deputies from Paxton’s office reported him to federal authorities almost three years ago, alleging he had misused his authority to help Paul with a fraud lawsuit from the Austin nonprofit Roy F. & Joann Cole Mitte Foundation.

Spiller said Saturday that Paxton demonstrated an intense desire to help his friend with the lawsuit against the advice of his deputy attorney general. In return, Paxton allegedly received bribes and favors from Paul — from home remodeling to hiring a woman with whom Paxton had an affair.

In one now-infamous story, Paxton allegedly accepted $20,000 worth of countertop materials from Paul through contractors renovating his home in Austin.

Johnson said they learned of the story after talking to a “young man” who worked at the AG’s office. The employee, Johnson said, once observed Paxton and a contractor discussing a remodel. During the exchange, Johnson said, the contractor said he needed to “talk to Nate” before proceeding with a change to the kitchen countertops.

“This young man is disturbed” by the interaction, Johnson said as she retold the story. “In fact, he is crushed by it. He believes Ken Paxton is one of his heroes.”

The employee eventually turned down a promotion and then quit the office. But he allegedly continued to receive money from Paxton’s campaign for a few months after, Johnson said, implying that the monthly $250 checks were Paxton’s attempt to keep the young man quiet. She said the former staffer called the campaign to tell them to stop sending the money and sent it back.

Earlier in the week, a Paxton aide tried to cast doubt on the investigation by disputing the materials of the countertops involved in the home remodel. Paxton and his supporters also attempted to undermine the report by claiming that the allegations were largely made by “political” appointees — an assertion that House committee members swiftly shot down Saturday.

Committee members also claimed that Paul helped Paxton maintain his affair with a San Antonio woman by giving her a job at Paul’s company in Austin. It made her “more convenient” to Paxton, Johnson said.

Johnson claimed that a distraught Paxton once bemoaned his continued love for the woman he was having an affair with to his staff, who were gravely concerned that it was improper and could open the attorney general’s office up to blackmail. Exposure of the affair, Johnson said, would have risked Paxton’s reputation as a “Christian man” who cherishes “family values” with his political base.

“He has an interest in attempting to keep this affair quiet,” Johnson said. “He also has an interest in continuing it.”

[…]

And then there was the divinely-inspired donation at a local Dairy Queen.

While Paxton was serving in the Texas Legislature as a state representative a decade ago, he became affiliated with the CEO of Servergy, a McKinney-based software company that courted him as a partner. William Mapp, the firm’s founder and former CEO, had donated to Paxton’s campaign and the two decided to go into business together.

At a Dairy Queen, the CEO reportedly said that “God had directed him” to give Paxton 100,000 shares of company stock, which Paxton argued shows the stock was a gift.

“However, documents … indicate that the stock was, again, for services,” the House Committee’s report said.

The Servergy relationship became the subject of a felony securities fraud indictment in 2015 that accused Paxton of recruiting investors without disclosing his own investment in the company or attempting to confirm the company’s claims about its technology.

According to the SEC, he persuaded five people to invest $840,000 into the company. The case is still ongoing.

The House committee’s members said they began probing Paxton’s behavior after the attorney general requested $3.3 million from the state to settle a lawsuit with the whistleblowers fired from his office after they accused Paxton of accepting bribes and other misconduct.

“There was no investigation prior to this time,” [Rep. Charlie] Geren, one of the committee’s five members, said on the House floor Saturday.

The settlement served Paxton by avoiding a trial that may have exposed to the public even more details of the attorney general’s wrongdoing, Geren said.

“Most disturbingly, the settlement agreement was made without prior approval of funds and obligates the Texas taxpayers — not [Attorney] General Paxton — to pay $3.3 million for his actions,” Geren told his House colleagues.

Yep, that’s from the 2015 state charges against Paxton that are still awaiting some form of resolution. Everyone knows that Paxton has been under indictment for nearly a decade. I’ll bet most people by now have forgotten what he’s under indictment for. Well, they’re going to be hearing about that again, too.

They’ll also be hearing a lot more about Nate Paul and his relationship with Paxton.

[Nate Paul] has been fighting multiple bankruptcies and legal battles with creditors for years. He was recently ordered to pay over $180,000 in fines and spend 10 days in jail for contempt of court in Travis County, and is appealing that ruling.

[…]

His company, World Class Holdings, reportedly owned the 156-acre former 3M campus in northwest Austin, as well as prime downtown parcels. Together with a portfolio of storage facilities located in several states, the company’s worth at one time was said to have approached $1 billion.

Personally, Paul owns a 9,000-square-foot mansion west of downtown Austin appraised at $7.1 million, according to Travis Central Appraisal District records.

Leading up to the pandemic, Paul’s business empire began to falter. Between 2019 and 2020, 18 of Paul’s companies declared bankruptcy, according to the Austin Business Journal, which has covered Paul’s comings and goings extensively since 2014, when his name suddenly became the most searched phrase on the newspaper’s website.

World Class also has been embroiled in several lawsuits involving investors and partners. And in August 2019, his business and home reportedly were raided by federal and state agents.

[…]

Paul said he was quickly able to acquire properties because of real estate prices suppressed by the 2009 recession. In 2015, he made a splash by bidding $800 million for a portfolio of properties including New York City’s legendary Plaza Hotel.

He also began raising his personal profile. In 2015, he was photographed with then-candidate Donald Trump, a meeting set up by a business associate who once worked for Trump.

He reportedly has hobnobbed with celebrities, including Los Angeles Lakers guard Avery Bradley, whom he met at UT; and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

In 2018, he donated just under $50,000 to a variety of Republican politicians, including $25,000 to Paxton.

And what about the Senator-wife, who is now on the jury panel for his trial? I don’t care about Angela Paxton’s biography or any of that soft-focus stuff. She’s as terrible a person as he is. I want to know how that mess might play out.

On Saturday, just two days before the Legislature was set to adjourn, the House voted to impeach Ken Paxton. The case now goes to the Senate for a full trial to decide whether he will be removed from office permanently.

Ken Paxton has said he thinks he will get a “quick resolution” in the Senate, “where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just.” The Senate is not only more conservative than the House, but the small, tight-knit chamber is ruled with an iron fist by [Dan] Patrick, a key ally of both Paxtons.

But Patrick has not yet stepped up to defend Ken Paxton, instead saying he intends to call a trial.

“We will all be responsible as any juror would be, if that turns out to be, and I think the members will do their duty,” Patrick told WFAA-TV. “I will be presiding over that case and the senators — all 31 senators — will have a vote. We’ll set the rules for that trial as we go forward and we’ll see how that develops.”

Because Texas has not impeached anyone in almost 50 years, Patrick has a lot of power to design the process to suit his goals. One of the central, unanswered questions is Angela Paxton’s role in this procedural drama.

Public Citizen, a progressive government watchdog, has called for her to recuse herself. She has not yet said how she plans to handle her role.

“My guess is she will have to step aside in the course of this,” [UH poli-sci professor Brandon] Rottinghaus said. “There’s no ethical way she can be a juror in this case.”

But even if she recuses, it’s difficult to eliminate her influence from the proceedings, as a colleague of the jurors, an ally of Patrick’s and a surrogate for her husband. On Saturday, while the House considered the impeachment articles, she was on the floor of the Senate, socializing with her colleagues.

“In the Senate, particularly, loyalties matter,” Rottinghaus said. “Many of the senators have loyalties to their fellow senators, to the lieutenant governor, but also a lot of these members have [loyalty] to the network of conservative Republicans who put a lot of these members in office.”

I really don’t know what happens here. I think the only way Angela Paxton recuses herself is if Dan Patrick makes her, and I’m not even sure he can make her. I think if she does recuse herself it will be because the outcome is clear one way or the other and her vote won’t matter. If it’s at all in doubt, I just don’t believe she’ll step aside.

In the meantime, there’s that big question everyone keep asking: Why did this all happen now?

Well, there are a few possible answers to that.

The material facts of the case changed in the past few months. The whistleblowers had a slam-dunk case for illegal termination. Some of them sued. Partly in order to shut down the lawsuit quickly—and to prevent the plaintiffs from liberating AG documents via the discovery process—Paxton settled in February 2023, offering them $3.3 million in taxpayer money. He asked lawmakers to fund the settlement. Even though the dollar amount was trivial, this didn’t sit well with many in the Legislature. Paxton was asking them to eat a turd sandwich so he could protect himself from his own stupidity. It made them look bad. It made the party look bad.

In March, the House Committee on General Investigating opened an investigation into the settlement. The committee is most famous this session for laying the groundwork for the unanimous expulsion of Bryan Slaton, the Republican former representative from Royse City who had sex with a nineteen-year-old staffer after giving her alcohol. The Slaton case was known within the committee as “Matter B.” The Paxton inquiry was known as “Matter A.” The committee has been working on it for months, hiring five investigators. Though their work was clearly diligent and thorough, it couldn’t have been all that difficult: most of the material behind the twenty impeachment charges the committee gave to the House is publicly available. Some of it has been known for the better part of a decade.

And look, these guys all knew what Paxton was. There’s a famous story about Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott that has circulated in Lege circles for years but has never been addressed by either man. When Paxton was a lowly lawmaker and Abbott was the attorney general, the story goes, they ended up in a box together at a football game. Supposedly, Abbott unleashed on Paxton about his unethical and potentially illegal behavior, making his contempt clear. Within just a few years, Paxton was attorney general and Abbott was celebrating him on the campaign trail. Lawmakers and state leaders hadn’t learned to love Paxton, presumably. But taking him on would have eaten up political capital and alienated Paxton’s powerful right-wing backers. So they just . . . didn’t.

The reality is, there was no clear way for the Lege to get rid of Paxton other than by beating him in an election or impeaching him. The first has proven very difficult. Impeachment, which is so alien a process to the modern Legislature that it might as well have come from Mars, needed a hook. Nothing Paxton did before he became attorney general would work. It’s arguably not until this session that the Lege has had a clear case: Paxton asked for taxpayer money to pay off whistleblowers he had illegally fired to cover up other illegal activity. On Friday, the House committee conducting the investigation released a statement in which it underlined the connection. “We cannot over-emphasize the fact that, but for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement . . . Paxton would not be facing impeachment.”

But this is still an extraordinary, earthshaking thing for the Lege to do. After it became public what the House was up to, Paxton was asked by a conservative radio host what he thought about the news. Paxton affected an air of wounded surprise. “I have no idea why they’ve chosen to do this,” he said. The House had violated the omertà that state officials in Texas generally follow, in other words—they don’t hold each other accountable. In a properly functional system, of course, they’d be doing that all the time.

I have some thoughts about this as well. I’ll address them in a post tomorrow.

Finally, it’s probably best to maintain a little cynicism as we watch this play out.

Various media outlets, and a few of Paxton’s defenders, have made much of the lightning speed of this past week. But while it may have been mere days between the Republican-led House General Investigating Committee’s announcement of their investigation and their unanimous vote to introduce 20 articles of impeachment to the full House for Saturday’s hearing and impeachment vote, Paxton has been under felony indictment for securities fraud since he became attorney general in 2015. The FBI had been investigating Paxton on allegations that he used his office to benefit a wealthy donor, Nate Paul, since late 2020. Only in February of this year did the Department of Justice take over that probe, breathing new life into it.

Paxton’s overreach the next month, in March of this year, appears to have been the second-to-last straw. According to the committee’s own memo, released the day before the full House hearing: “But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment.” Not, please note, the wrongful conduct—that is, Paxton’s firing of four whistleblowing members of his own senior staff after they accused him of using his office to help out Paul. Nor Paxton’s decision this past spring to pay $3.3 million to settle out of court. Or even the $600,000 the House spent defending Paxton. But Paxton’s request that taxpayers pay that $3.3 million—and that his fellow GOP colleagues go on record approving that request.

The final straw? Paxton, likely knowing that Phelan was going to try to gloss this most recent disgusting legislative term by ending it on a high note, called on him to resign last week over alleged drunkenness—via a tweet. Making it look super-extra-duper political when the House General Investigating Committee revealed that afternoon that it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March. The committee then heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general and voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.

Believe me when I say that I, like many people who have been burned by the Texas GOP’s seemingly endless appetite for cruelty, ignorance, and hypocrisy, felt a certain satisfaction as I watched yesterday’s coverage of it setting itself on fire. Top moment? When the first group to appear outside the Capitol in Austin in response to Paxton’s call for supporters to turn out was around 100 people preparing for the “Trot for Trans Lives,” a 5K run held in support of transgender Americans affected by the waves of anti-trans rights legislation passed in recent years, including by Texas lawmakers.

Small pleasures aside, none of this is as satisfying as it sounds, nor do I think it will end well. First of all, because of all the bureaucracy that lies ahead. Governor Greg Abbott, who has remained curiously silent this past week while he sticks his finger into the political wind, has 10 days to tell the Senate to start a trial. A trial that would be presided over by Paxton buddy arch-conservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and that’s likely to be kicked down the road infinitely and/or end with an acquittal.

Yeah, the timing of what happens next remains unclear to me. If nothing else, we’re getting a partial special session at some point.

Like I said, I’ll have some thoughts on the “why” and “why now” of this tomorrow. Until then, if all this hasn’t been enough for you, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, and the Rivard Report have more.

House impeaches Paxton

For the third time in as many days, I say Wow.

A crook any way you look

In a history-making late-afternoon vote, a divided Texas House chose Saturday to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, temporarily removing him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office.

The vote to adopt the 20 articles of impeachment was 121-23.

Attention next shifts to the Texas Senate, which will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.

Permanently removing Paxton from office and barring him from holding future elected office in Texas would require the support of two-thirds of senators.

The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.

“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, a committee member, told House members.

“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”

Paxton supporters criticized the impeachment proceedings as rushed, secretive and based on hearsay accounts of actions taken by Paxton, who was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the investigating committee.

“This process is indefensible,” said Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, who complained that the vote was taking place on a holiday weekend before members had time to conduct a thorough review of the accusations. “It concerns me a lot because today it could be General Paxton, tomorrow it could be you and the next day it could be me.”

[…]

The vote came as hardline conservatives supportive of Paxton’s aggressive strategy of suing the Biden administration were lining up in support of him. Former President Donald Trump — a close political ally to Paxton — blasted the impeachment proceedings as an attempt to unseat “the most hard working and effective” attorney general and thwart the “large number of American Patriots” who voted for Paxton.

Trump vowed to target any Republican who voted to impeach Paxton.

As lawmakers listened to the committee members make their case, Paxton took to social media to boost conservatives who had come to his defense, including Trump, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, who tweeted, “Kangaroo Court in Texas.”

About 90 minutes into the debate, the official Twitter account of the Texas attorney general’s office began tweeting at members of the committee to challenge some of the claims being made.

“Please tell the truth,” the agency’s account said.

Because Paxton was impeached while the Legislature was in session, the Texas Constitution requires the Senate to remain in Austin after the regular session ends Monday or set a trial date for the future, with no deadline for a trial spelled out in the law.

See here and here for the background. The Trib did some liveblogging of the proceedings, and DMN reported Lauren McGaughy was livetweeting it. You can see how every member voted here. Of interest: Every member from Paxton’s home base of Collin County voted Aye. Everyone in Harris County voted Aye except Reps. Harless (HD126, Nay), Paul (HD129, Nay), Schofield (HD132, Nay), Swanson (HD150, Nay), and Harold Fucking Dutton (Present, Not Voting). Rep. Tom Oliverson was an Excused Absence, and Rep. Shawn Thierry was marked as absent.

As noted before, if Paxton is convicted Greg Abbott will appoint a replacement, who would then have to run in 2024. He can appoint an interim AG pending the Senate action, but has not yet said anything as of the drafting of this post. We do have this:

We wait to see when the Senate will act. I’ll have some further thoughts later. The Chron, WFAA, the Statesman, Texas Public Radio, the San Antonio Report, the Texas Signal, Reform Austin, Daily Kos, TPM, Mother Jones, and the Press have more.

Impeach-a-palooza

The impeachment debate in the House will happen today.

A crook any way you look

The Texas House intends to take up a resolution to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton at 1 p.m. Saturday, according to a memo from the House General Investigating Committee.

Citing Paxton’s “long-standing pattern of abuse of office and public trust,” the memo said it was imperative for the House to proceed with impeachment to prevent Paxton from using his office’s “significant powers” to further obstruct and delay justice.

The committee proposed allocating four hours of debate, evenly divided between supporters and opponents of impeachment, with 40 minutes for opening arguments by committee members and 20 minutes for closing statements. A simple majority is needed to send the matter to a trial before the Texas Senate. If the House votes to impeach Paxton, the memo said, the House would conduct the trial in the Senate through a group of House members called “managers.

The committee stressed that Paxton’s request earlier this year for the Legislature to pay $3.3 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit led to its investigation and ultimately the articles of impeachment. The memo also said impeachment is not a criminal process and its primary purpose is to “protect the state, not to punish the offender.”

See here for the background. You can read the articles of impeachment here. Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick are still playing this close to the vest, but the state GOP Chair and other assorted deplorables are firmly Team Paxton. And speaking of which

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is accused of impeachable offenses including bribery tied to helping a woman with whom he allegedly had an affair get a job through Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.

His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, may soon decide whether he deserves to be removed from office for that and other alleged violations of law and the public trust, which were released Thursday night by a Texas House committee.

The senator’s chief of staff did not respond to a request for comment about whether she would recuse herself.

“The first option would be for her to recuse herself,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “The second would be for the Senate to make that judgment on whether they believe going forward with a sitting senator being a spouse of a person on trial is a look you would like to have.”

It’s unclear how the more conservative Senate would vote, even if the impeachment case were to pass the House with a majority vote.

“We will all be responsible as any juror would be, if that turns out to be, and I think the members will do their duty,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a Thursday interview with WFAA.

On the one hand, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation. The fact that Angela Paxton could be the deciding vote on whether Ken Paxton gets removed from office or not makes this as clear a case of conflict of interest as one could imagine. Twenty votes to convict are enough to remove him if there are 30 votes total. If there are 31 votes total, and one of the No votes belongs to Angela Paxton, he stays. It doesn’t get any more obvious than that. On the other hand, there is no other hand. There’s also no mechanism other than personal integrity and/or a sense of shame to compel Angela Paxton to step aside for this. I’m sure you can guess what I think she’ll do.

Whatever does happen, that we have gotten to this point at all is a big and wholly unexpected deal.

​​For nearly a decade, Texas Republicans largely looked the other way as Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal problems piled up.

That abruptly changed this week.

In revealing it had been secretly investigating Paxton since March — and then recommending his impeachment on Thursday — a Republican-led state House committee sought to hold Paxton accountable in a way the GOP has never come close to doing. It amounted to a political earthquake, and while it remains to be seen whether Paxton’s ouster will be the outcome, it represents a stunning act of self-policing.

“We’re used to seeing partisans protect their own, and in this case, the Republicans have turned on the attorney general,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “It’s really surprising.”

[…]

As an impeachment vote nears on the House floor, Paxton is about to learn how many Republican friends he really has, both inside the Capitol and outside.

Paxton has closely aligned himself with Donald Trump over the years, but the former president has yet to come to the attorney general’s defense. And in an interview Thursday with WFAA, Patrick declined to stick up for Paxton, pointing out that he may have to preside over a Senate trial.

“We will all be responsible as any juror would be, if that turns out to be, and I think the members will do their duty,” Patrick said.

While Patrick ultimately endorsed Paxton in 2022, it came after The Texas Tribune reported that the lieutenant governor was meddling in the primary and working against Paxton.

A handful of Republicans in the Legislature have already sided against Paxton by supporting his primary challengers in 2022. Sen. Mayes Middleton of Galveston personally funded two of Paxton’s rivals to the tune of six figures. But for the rest, this will be the first time they have to publicly render judgment against the scandal-plagued attorney general.

[…]

On Friday morning, Rep. Brian Harrison, R-Midlothian, called in to a Dallas radio show and said he was undecided on how he would vote. But he raised multiple questions about the process so far and said that while the allegations against Paxton are “very concerning,” he may be even more worried the House is fueling the perception that it is trying to “criminalize political opposition.”

Asked if there were enough House Republicans willing to join Democrats in impeaching Paxton, Harrison declined to make a prediction.

However, he said, “I think it’s fair to say that there are a large number of my colleagues who do not hold the current attorney general in very high regard.”

I remain skeptical that this will go all the way, though the general dislike of Paxton – maybe some of them are just tired of his shit – could be a big factor. Still requires a non-trivial number of Republicans to turn on him, though. This story says it will take a majority vote in the House to send the matter to the Senate for trial (so only a dozen or so Rs in the House), but previous reporting has said it takes a two-thirds vote in the House to send the matter to the Senate. Looking at the relevant laws, that appears to be the case:

Sec. 665.054. REMOVAL VOTE. (a) The governor shall remove from office a person on the address of two-thirds of each house of the legislature.

(b) The vote of each member shall be recorded in the journal of each house.

Seems clear to me, but views differ. I guess we’ll find out later today. I’ll get back to that in a minute. Note this as well:

SUBCHAPTER D. OTHER REMOVAL PROVISIONS

Sec. 665.081. NO REMOVAL FOR ACTS COMMITTED BEFORE ELECTION TO OFFICE. (a) An officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer’s election to office.

(b) The prohibition against the removal from office for an act the officer commits before the officer’s election is covered by:

(1) Section 21.002, Local Government Code, for a mayor or alderman of a general law municipality; or

(2) Chapter 87, Local Government Code, for a county or precinct officer.

This is the argument that Paxton’s representative in the House Chris Hilton was making, that the activities that the committee was investigating all took place before the 2022 election and thus is invalid as grounds for impeachment. The statute doesn’t specify which election, however, and I as a noted non-lawyer will point out that this could reasonably be read to mean his initial election to the office in question, which was 2014. There’s a lot of law nerdery going on about this. I’m sure we’ll hear more of it today. If the House does send this to the Senate, it won’t surprise me if there’s an immediate writ of mandamus filed with SCOTx to weigh in before it proceeds any further. And you thought this was going to be a relatively peaceful holiday weekend.

One more thing, on the subject of what could happen in the House:

Another data point for simple majority in the House. Make of that what you will. But if that does happen, Greg Abbott would have the option of naming a temporary AG while this gets sorted out. If Paxton does get convicted, or somehow decides it’s better to resign first, Abbott would pick someone to fill his unexpired term. That person would then be on the ballot in 2024, as would be the case when Abbott appoints a judge, and I can only imagine how searingly hot that election, in a Presidential year with Ted Cruz also on the ballot, could be. Oh, and just imagine the bloody Republican primaries next March, too. Is your blood pumping yet? I’ll have more tomorrow.

UPDATE: Paxton is handling all this with all the grace and wisdom that you’d expect from him.

House General Investigations Committee votes to impeach Paxton

Once again, I say Wow.

A crook any way you look

In an unprecedented move, a Texas House committee voted Thursday to recommend that Attorney General Ken Paxton be impeached and removed from office, citing a yearslong pattern of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking that investigators detailed one day earlier.

During a specially called meeting Thursday afternoon, the House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously to refer articles of impeachment to the full chamber. The House will next decide whether to approve the articles against Paxton, which could lead to the attorney general’s removal from office pending the outcome of a trial to be conducted by the Senate.

No Legislature has impeached an attorney general, an extraordinary step that lawmakers have historically reserved for public officials who faced serious allegations that they had abused their powers.

The decision came minutes after a representative from Paxton’s office demanded Thursday to testify in front of the House committee probing Paxton’s alleged criminal acts and decried the committee’s actions as “illegal.”

Chris Hilton, chief of general litigation for the attorney general’s office, interrupted the five-member panel’s brief meeting to demand to testify on behalf of Paxton’s office. State Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, shook his head and moved forward with the meeting, which went into executive session almost immediately after gaveling in.

“The people deserve to hear from this office in the context of this investigation,” Hilton said. “The voters want Ken Paxton, and this committee — by investigating him, by not allowing us to be heard here today, by never reaching out to us at any time during this investigative process — is trying to thwart the will of the voters. We deserve to be heard here today.”

Once the committee returned from meeting in private, members voted to issue “preservation letters” directing the Department of Public Safety and the Texas Facilities Commission to protect pertinent information. The committee did not discuss what information it wanted preserved.

Then committee members voted to adopt the articles of impeachment with discussion.

In a statement later Thursday, Paxton sought to turn the tables on allegations that he acted in a corrupt manner while in office, blaming the move toward impeachment proceedings on “corrupted politicians in the Texas House.”

“It is a sad day in Texas as we witness the corrupt political establishment unite in an illegitimate attempt to overthrow the will of the people and disenfranchise the voters of our state,” he said.

[…]

Only the Texas House can bring impeachment proceedings against state officials, which would lead to a trial by the Senate. Under the Texas Constitution, Paxton would be suspended from office pending the outcome of the Senate trial. The constitution also allows the governor to appoint an provisional replacement.

Removal from office would require the support of two-thirds of senators. This has happened only twice in Texas history, to Gov. James Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975.

After being rejected from testifying before the House investigating committee Thursday, Hilton told reporters the panel’s actions were illegal under a section of Texas law that says a “state officer may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer’s election to office.”

Hilton argued that the statute meant “any impeachment can only be about conduct since the most recent elections.”

On Twitter, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association said it’s unclear if Paxton could be impeached for conduct that occurred before his latest election. The so-called forgiveness doctrine prohibits “most” officials from being removed from office for conduct that predated their most recent election. But, the organization added, statutes outlining the doctrine have only been applied to local officials.

“Maybe we’ll get to see some new law made,” the organization added.

[…]

No Republican House members have yet called for Paxton’s impeachment. But Jeff Leach, R-Plano, urged the public to tune into Wednesday’s committee hearing, which he said would discuss “issues of vital importance.”

“Make no mistake,” Leach said on Twitter. “The Texas House will do our job and uphold our oaths of office.”

And Phelan, who in early May cited his role as the House’s presiding officer as the reason why he did not comment on sexual misconduct allegations against Slaton until after the chamber expelled him, has dropped that approach with Paxton. The speaker on Wednesday called the committee investigators’ report “extremely disturbing” and said Paxton “appears to have routinely abused his office for personal gain.”

Republicans for years have fended off questions about Paxton’s legal and ethical issues, variously deferring to courts to decide them and voters to determine if they were disqualifying. A key question is why the Republican-led House is acting against Paxton now.

Phelan said the House had an obligation to vet the whistleblowers’ claims because a proposed settlement between the four former employees and Paxton’s office would have cost $3.3 million — funds the Legislature would have to approve.

Murr expressed concern Wednesday that the settlement would help Paxton avoid a trial at which evidence of his alleged misdeeds would become public.

See here for the background. The Chron has a useful explanation of what happens next.

The Legislature can impeach any state officer, head of a state department or institution, and any member or trustee of a state institution, according to Texas law.

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said the process is similar to the national impeachment process with which many Texans are probably already familiar and resembles a court proceeding.

The House would be first to conduct proceedings. If members were to vote and approve impeachment, the matter would move to the Senate, which would hold its own trial.

The House would need to approve the impeachment on a two-thirds vote in order for it to advance, and the Senate would need to approve removing Paxton on a two-thirds vote. As in a state district court trial, both the House and Senate would each have the ability to call witnesses, compel testimony and hold potential witnesses in contempt.

The Legislature does not have to be in session for an impeachment to move forward, according to state law.

The House could start impeachment proceedings now, before the biennial session ends Monday. But if it does not, the governor can call the members into session, the law states. The House speaker also can do so if 50 or more members ask for it. Or a majority of members can compel a session if they sign a written proclamation.

The Senate has similar authority under the law to continue its work when not in session.

I’m far from certain that the votes will be there to dethrone Paxton, but the early chatter on the House side suggests that they will do their part and hand this hot potato off to the Senate. Assuming all 12 Democrats vote to convict, at least eight Republicans would have to do so as well, and that’s whether or not Sen. Angela Paxton recuses herself. (The mind boggles, I know.) In the meantime, as of the writing of this post, neither Greg Abbott nor Dan Patrick has said anything. I cannot see them turning on their buddy, but this whole thing has been so utterly bizarre that I hesitate to make any guesses about what might come next.

I leave you with two tweets and then the rest of the links.

Indeed. WFAA, Texas Public Radio, TPM, the Associated Press, the Austin Chronicle, Mother Jones, the Current, and Reform Austin have more.

House General Investigations Committee goes hard after Paxton

Wow.

A crook any way you look

A Texas House committee heard stunning testimony Wednesday from investigators over allegations of a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions by Attorney General Ken Paxton, the result of a probe the committee had secretly authorized in March.

In painstaking and methodical detail in a rare public forum, four investigators for the House General Investigating Committee testified that they believe Paxton broke numerous state laws, misspent office funds and misused his power to benefit a friend and political donor.

Their inquiry focused first on a proposed $3.3 million agreement to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by four high-ranking deputies who were fired after accusing Paxton of accepting bribes and other misconduct.

Committee Chair Andrew Murr said the payout, which the Legislature would have to authorize, would also prevent a trial where evidence of Paxton’s alleged misdeeds would be presented publicly. Committee members questioned, in essence, if lawmakers were being asked to participate in a cover-up.

“It is alarming and very serious having this discussion when millions of taxpayer dollars have been asked to remedy what is alleged to be some wrongs,” Murr said. “That’s something we have to grapple with. It’s challenging.”

Many of the allegations detailed Wednesday were already known, but the public airing of them revealed the wide scope of the committee’s investigation into the state’s top lawyer and a member of the ruling Republican Party. The investigative committee has broad power to investigate state officials for wrongdoing, and three weeks ago the House expelled Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, on its recommendation.

In this case, it could recommend the House censure or impeach Paxton — a new threat to an attorney general who has for years survived scandals and been reelected twice despite securities fraud charges in 2015 and news of a federal investigation into the whistleblowers’ claims in 2020.

Erin Epley, lead counsel for the investigating committee, said the inquiry also delved into the whistleblowers’ allegations by conducting multiple interviews with employees of Paxton’s agency — many of whom expressed fears of retaliation by Paxton if their testimony were to be revealed — as well as the whistleblowers and others with pertinent information.

According to state law, Epley told the committee in a hearing at the Capitol, a government official cannot fire or retaliate against “a public employee who in good faith reports a violation of law … to an appropriate law enforcement authority.”

The four whistleblowers, however, were fired months after telling federal and state investigators about their concerns over Paxton’s actions on behalf of Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and a friend and political donor to Paxton.

“Each of these four men is a conservative Republican civil servant,” Epley said. “Interviews show that they wanted to be loyal to General Paxton and they tried to advise him well, often and strongly, and when that failed each was fired after reporting General Paxton to law enforcement.”

Epley and the other investigators then walked the committee through the whistleblowers’ allegations, including help Paxton gave Paul that went beyond the normal scope of his duties.

“I ask that you look at the pattern and the deviations from the norm, questions not just of criminal activity but of ethical impropriety and for lacking in transparency,” investigator Erin Epley told the committee. “I ask you to consider the benefits [for Paxton].”

[…]

The investigators interviewed 15 employees for the attorney general’s office, including Joshua Godby, who worked for the open records division when Paxton pressured the division’s staff to get involved in a records fight to benefit Paul in a lawsuit.

Out of the 15 people, investigators said, all except one expressed concern about retaliation from Paxton for speaking on the matter. The investigators also interviewed a special prosecutor, Brian Wice, in a separate securities fraud case that has been ongoing for eight years, as well as representatives for the Mitte Foundation, an Austin nonprofit involved in a legal dispute with Paul.

The investigators outlined the alleged favors Paxton did for Paul. In exchange, Paul helped with a “floor to ceiling renovation” of Paxton’s Austin home and employed a woman with whom Paxton was allegedly in a relationship. Paxton is married to state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, who learned of the affair in 2019, leading to a brief hiatus in the relationship before it resumed in 2020, Epley told the committee.

See here for where we started. I assume that “brief hiatus” is in the affair, which means that, um, he’s still canoodling with whoever his not-Angela inamorata is. I dunno, maybe someone should look into that a bit more? Like, maybe there’s some more potential lawbreaking or rules-violating there? Just a thought.

Wow.

Addressing the House Committee on General Investigating, the team outlined several potential criminal offenses they alleged Paxton committed including abuse of official capacity, misuse of official information, misapplication of fiduciary property and accepting an improper gift.

They said Paxton improperly used his office’s resources to help real estate developer and campaign donor Nate Paul on multiple occasions throughout 2020, raising alarm bells among his senior-most aides who viewed Paxton’s personal interventions as highly unusual and unethical. Some of the alleged crimes are felonies, the team noted.

“So is it fair to say the OAG’s office was effectively hijacked for an investigation by Nate Paul through the Attorney General Ken Paxton?” Committee Vice Chair Ann Johnson, D-Houston, asked.

Investigator Erin Epley, a former assistant US attorney, responded: “That would be my opinion.”

[…]

Earlier this year, Paxton and the whistleblowers announced a tentative settlement agreement.

The agency agreed to pay $3.3 million to the four whistleblowers, contingent on legislative approval, and Paxton would apologize for calling them “rogue employees.” Neither side admitted to “liability or fault” by agreeing to the settlement.

The request spurred the House ethics committee to look into the funding request. While the probe began in March, Murr and Phelan first confirmed the inquiry on Tuesday.

Epley said the team reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including emails, contracts, criminal complaints and lawsuit documents over months. They also interviewed the whistleblowers, other agency employees, officials in the local prosecutor’s office and more.

The team’s presentation to the committee, which lasted more than three hours, delved into years of alleged misconduct by Paxton, including the whistleblower accusations as well as active state securities fraud indictments.

They did not shed any new light on Paxton and Paul’s relationship. But the team said it found evidence to support the whistleblower’s allegations that Paul helped remodel the kitchen in Paxton’s Austin home and secured a job for a woman with whom Paxton was allegedly having an affair.

The investigators said Paxton seemed to sympathize with Paul, whose businesses and offices were raided by the FBI in 2019. Over the course of the next year, investigators say Paxton began personally steering the agency to intervene in matters benefiting Paul.

It began with public records requests, when Paxton repeatedly pushed staff to release sensitive FBI documents to Paul’s legal team, the investigators said. Paxton told an agency staffer he believed Paul was being railroaded, said investigator Terese Buess, who previously led the Harris County prosecutor’s public integrity unit.

“[Paxton] said he did not want to use his office, the OAG, to help the feds” or or [the Department of Public Safety,” she added.

Murr stopped Buess at that moment, asking, “Did you just state, I want to be very clear, that the Attorney General for the state of Texas said he didn’t not want to use his office to help law enforcement?”

Buess responded: “That is exactly what was relayed to us.”

Over the coming months, and against the advice of top staff, he directed the agency attorneys to issue a rushed legal opinion that Paul’s team used to fight a dozen foreclosures, the team noted. And Paxton ordered staff to intervene in a legal conflict between Paul’s businesses and a local charity in a way that helped the developer, investigators said.

“General Paxton, in this instance, charged with protecting Texas charitable foundations, disregarded his duty and improperly used his office, his staff, his resources to the detriment of the (charity) and to the benefit of a single person: Nate Paul,” Buess said.

[…]

The investigators also discussed in detail the active criminal fraud cases against the attorney general. Paxton was indicted for felony securities fraud eight years ago related to his involvement with a North Texas technology firm but has not yet faced trial.

An unrelated bribery investigation also came up. In 2017, the Kaufman County district attorney looked into concerns that Paxton took a $100,000 gift from a man his agency had investigated for Medicaid fraud. She closed the investigation after determining Paxton did not break state laws because he had a personal relationship with the donor.

The team spoke with at least 15 people and said all but one had concerns about retaliation inside the agency. They did not list who they interviewed. It is unclear whether they spoke with Paxton or Paul.

The four members of the investigative team all said they believe sufficient evidence supported the whistleblower’s allegations. They listed a series of crimes they believe Paxton may have committed, including abuse of official capacity and misuse of official information, both felony offenses.

“In relation to many of these crimes, there’s of course the aiding and abetting portion of it,” said investigator Mark Donnelly, another former prosecutor. “He’s acting with other individuals, and conspiracy to commit crimes that violate both the state of Texas laws and federal laws.”

“That’s alarming to hear,” Murr responded. “It curls my mustache.”

Okay first, go back to the Trib story above and look at the picture of Andrew Murr. You’ll know how serious that statement of his is. Second, those are some real greatest hits that this committee is playing. I mean, the Kaufman County bribery investigation, which ultimately went nowhere? Are they thinking about that as background material – you know, “establishing a pattern”, as they say on “Law & Order” – or do they think there was something that should have been acted upon? The mind reels. Finally, maybe the Justice Department ought to perhaps Do Something with this investigation, which is now in their laps? And maybe Texas Democrats ought to push them to take action on this? Again, just a thought.

And for the third time, wow.

The House investigators, a group of five attorneys with experience in public integrity law and white collar crime, said they reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, including emails, contracts and criminal complaints, and interviewed 15 people. All but one stated they had “grave concerns” regarding Paxton showing hostility or retaliation toward them for their participation.

Paxton signed a settlement with the whistleblowers in February for $3.3 million, but the deal is effectively dead because the Legislature has declined to fund it this session, which whistleblowers have said was a condition of the agreement. The session ends May 29. The whistleblowers’ attorneys have asked the Texas Supreme Court to continue on with the suit.

Epley told committee members Wednesday that Paxton violated the state’s open records law to help Paul obtain information about the FBI’s investigation into him and a raid it had executed against his home and business office.

The attorney general’s office, which is charged with determining whether information needs to be released, had issued a “no-opinion” ruling on the matter — the first time it had done so in decades. The office receives about 30,000 requests per year.

Epley said Paul should have been denied the documents, since the open records law has a clear exception for law enforcement matters, yet Paxton pushed for its release.

According to Epley, Paxton obtained his own copy of the documents and directed an aide to hand-deliver a manila envelope to Paul at his business. After that, Paul’s attorneys stopped asking for the FBI records.

Investigator Mark Donnelly also provided new information on Wednesday that an attorney of Paul’s had recommended that Paxton’s office hire a young and inexperienced lawyer named Brandon Cammack as outside counsel to help Paxton investigate the federal officials looking into Paul. That could have been a conflict of interest, as Paul was the one who had requested the investigation in the first place.

Donnolly did not name the attorney who referred Cammack, but Hearst Newspapers has reported on the strange relationship between Cammack and an attorney who represented Paul, Michael Wynne.

Paul, who is in the middle of multiple bankruptcy proceedings and financial litigation, had wanted the attorney general’s office to uncover details about the federal law investigation into him and his businesses.

Paxton hired Cammack as a “special prosecutor” against the advice of his staff, according to the investigators. They said Cammack was able to use the unredacted FBI report from Paxton to pinpoint the targets of 39 subpoenas, which went to Paul’s business interests and law enforcement officials.

You know, this stuff has been out there for a long time. And for a long time, it’s largely been ignored despite the voluminous record. In the same way that there’s basically no such thing as an anti-Trump Republican any more, because they’ve either been corrupted or they’ve left the Republican Party, at least up until now there’s been no such thing as an anti-Ken Paxton Republican in Texas. Mad respect to the three Republicans on this committee and their investigators, and to the whistleblowers before them, but there have been multiple opportunities before now to deal with the Paxton problem. Even if the Lege ultimately moves forward with impeachment, which by the way will require at least eight of Dan Patrick’s hand-puppet GOP Senators to turn on Paxton, he’s gotten away with this shit – and done a ton of damage while doing so – for way too long. Better late than never and all that, but boy howdy is this late.

I will close with three tweets of interest.

I’ve already pre-ordered that book for my Kindle. Texas Public Radio, the Associated Press, Reform Austin, and TPM have more.

Paxton calls on Phelan to resign

The last few days of a legislative session are always the dumbest days of the session.

A crook any way you look

Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that state House Speaker Dade Phelan should resign, accusing him of presiding over his chamber “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication.” Paxton also asked the House General Investigating Committee to probe Phelan, a fellow Republican.

Paxton’s call for Phelan’s resignation came days after a video clip went viral that showed Phelan slurring his words while overseeing House floor proceedings Friday night. Phelan’s office has declined to comment on the incident.

“After much consideration, it is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislation session,” Paxton said in a statement posted on Twitter. “His conduct has negatively impacted the legislative process and constitutes a failure to live up to his duty to the public.”

Minutes later, Paxton also posted to Twitter a screenshot of a letter he sent the chair of the General Investigating Committee, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, asking him to open an “investigation into Speaker Phelan for violation of House rules, state law, and for conduct unbecoming his position.” The General Investigating Committee was meeting Tuesday afternoon but does not publicly comment on any pending investigations.

Phelan’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Paxton’s remarks.

Texas Republicans regularly fight among themselves, but Paxton’s comments Tuesday were striking even by that standard.

The 44-second video clip of Phelan began circulating on social media over the weekend. It was pushed by Phelan’s intraparty critics, including former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. It was also the subject of anonymous text messages deriding Phelan as “Drunk Dade.”

Phelan’s defenders noted he seemed to speak normally before and after the clip. They also noted that the people pushing the video, like Stickland, may be out for revenge after the House voted to expel one of their political allies, ex-state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City.

[…]

Paxton shares political ties with Slaton, the ousted lawmaker. A top campaign contributor to both has been Defend Texas Liberty PAC, the Stickland-run group that is mostly financed by conservative megadonors Tim Dunn and the Wilks family.

You can see the video here if you’re so inclined. I have not given this any real thought, but Scott Braddock speaks for me:

I have no opinion about what condition Speaker Phelan was in, nor do I particularly care. Honestly, he was probably just as exhausted as everyone else is at this point in a session. I do care about the assholes who enabled Bryan Slaton and who are still mad that he faced consequences for his repellant actions. That’s about all the thought I care to give this. The Press and Reform Austin have more.

UPDATE: Okay, now I’m interested.

Following Attorney General Ken Paxton’s call for Speaker Dade Phelan’s resignation, Phelan’s office responded by presenting their perspective on Paxton’s motives.

The House Committee on General Investigating has issued subpoenas to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) relating to the firing of eight whistleblowers from the attorney general’s office.

Cait Wittman, the spokeswoman for Phelan, highlighted the committee’s investigation into “Matter A” since March, as evidenced by committee minutes and official House records. According to Wittman, the motives and timing behind Paxton’s recent statement calling for Phelan’s resignation are abundantly clear.

She stated, “As outlined in the attached preservation letter, the Committee is conducting a thorough examination of the events tied to the firing of the whistleblowers in addition to Ken Paxton’s alleged illegal conduct.” The committee minutes further revealed the issuance of subpoenas.

Wittman characterized Paxton’s statement as a desperate attempt to salvage his reputation, stating, “Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face.”

The letter says that, “The House has been conducting an investigation related to your request for $3.3 million dollars of public money to pay a settlement resolving litigation between your agency and terminated whistleblowers.”

Nice. Do the letters FAFO mean anything to you, Kenny?

UPDATE: Color Jeremy Wallace skeptical of the video evidence.

No Paxton settlement money in the budget

The Lege takes a stand.

A crook any way you look

Texas budget negotiators want to ban Attorney General Ken Paxton from using state funds to pay a $3.3 million whistleblower settlement.

This week, they adopted a provision that would bar the Office of the Attorney General from using state money to pay for any whistleblower lawsuits or claims, according to budget documents and a spokesperson with the Legislative Budget Board. The language could still change and ultimately needs sign-off from the Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott to become law.

The settlement is a hot topic this session as some GOP leaders balked at using taxpayer dollars to foot the bill. A rejection of the funds could send Paxton’s agency back to court with four former staffers who sued, alleging they were fired after accusing the Republican of bribery and abuse of office.

Paxton’s agency did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who chair the legislative budget committees. The legislative session ends on Memorial Day.

Late Tuesday, attorneys for the whistleblowers wrote to the budget negotiators calling the proposal “disastrous public policy” that would “unfairly punish our clients.”

The state whistleblower act gives public employees who report corruption a safety net, and barring funding of the settlement would “give office holders a license to break the law,” the lawyers wrote on behalf of former top agency employees James “Blake” Brickman, Mark Penley, David Maxwell and Ryan Vassar.

The attorneys added that other government workers would not “risk their financial livelihood to report corruption if the Legislature hangs our clients out to dry.”

[…]

The budget provision’s consequences could be far more sweeping than this one case if they are adopted, an expert said.

Blocking the ability of a state agency to pay whistleblower lawsuits could discourage its employees from reporting alleged wrongdoing, said Michael P. Maslanka, an associate professor at the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law.

And by limiting the restriction to just one agency, the whistleblowers’ attorneys might even be able to sue the Legislature for infringing on their constitutional right to equal protection under the law, he added.

See here, here, here, and here for the backgound. Gotta say, I thought the Lege would fold on this, because when have any Republicans ever held Ken Paxton accountable for anything? Yet here we are, and I’m glad to see it. I will say again, for the umpteenth time, the fact that the budget doesn’t have money specifically earmarked for this settlement doesn’t mean Ken Paxton and the AG’s office can’t pay it. He can just take it out of the amount that has been appropriated for that office, and deal with whatever shortfalls it creates. I get the whistleblowers’ frustration, I really do. I just see this as the way to inflict some actual pain on Paxton. He deserves it. Reform Austin has more.

Sexual harassment lawsuit against Collin County DA settled

From last week.

Greg Willis

Collin County Commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to settle an amended lawsuit against the Collin County District Attorney’s Office by three current and three former employees of that office.

The suit accused District Attorney Greg Willis and First Assistant District Attorney Bill Wirskye of sexually harassing multiple women who work or have worked in the district attorney’s office, and of retaliating against them when they refused to comply with their sexual advances.

In a statement released by Collin County Judge Chris Hill, he also claims the lawsuit falsely claimed members of the Commissioners Court were aware of the misconduct in the office and refused to take action.

The statement goes onto say the Commissioners Court engaged an independent legal firm to investigate the allegations immediately upon learning of them. That investigator talked with more than 30 current and former employees at the DA’s office, who they say discovered numerous inconsistencies, inaccuracies and false statements in the allegations. Multiple employees also reportedly directly disputed many of the lawsuit’s allegations.

“As the female leadership in the Collin County District Attorney’s Office, we would like to issue this statement in support of District Attorney Greg Willis and First Assistant Bill Wirskye,” said 11 current female chief prosecutors in the Collin County DA’s Office. “They have cultivated an environment that empowers women and supports working mothers. We are proud to continue to seek justice alongside their leadership.”

The Commissioners Court said in the statement they ultimately concluded the allegations were unfounded and refused to settle claims of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, along with allegations against court members.

“In spite of the Court’s objections, the county’s insurance company was concerned about the potential costs of litigation and any potential judgment, and the insurer offered the six plaintiffs $1.75 million to settle the lawsuit,” the statement reads. “The six plaintiffs amended their lawsuit, retracting the allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, retracting all allegations against the Court members, and retracting the allegations against the District Attorney and the First Assistant District Attorney.”

The plaintiffs alleged in an amended filing that they suffered retaliation and subsequently accepted the settlement offer.

Afterward, the three remaining employees resigned from their employment with the county, the statement added, as a condition of the settlement agreement.

See here and here for the background. Willis is a longtime Ken Paxton crony, which is what interested me in the case to begin with. There’s some information in the story about the allegations – there’s more in those links I provided above – but no response about the dismissal from the plaintiffs’ side, so all we have is the defense posturing to analyze. The original allegations were pretty shocking, but a lot of things can happen between the filings and the courtroom. I’m fascinated by the defense putting the onus on the settlement on the county’s insurance company, like “we wanted to fight this in court but those actuarial wusses held us back”. I sure wish I knew more, but this is often how it goes. KERA has more.

Least-surprising headline of the week

From the Chron: “GOP donor tied to Clarence Thomas has given Texas lawmakers $19M”.

The Texas billionaire in the middle of the controversy around U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has a long history in Texas politics, donating more than $7 million to mostly GOP causes over the last three years and more than $19 million over the last 20 years.

According to federal and state financial records, Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate magnate, has donated more than $10.9 million to federal campaign committees and $8.4 million to state campaigns in Texas including to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan.

Just last year, Crow donated more than $100,000 to Abbott, and he has given the three-term governor more than $316,000 since 2006.

But that’s not much compared with the $2.5 million he’s given to Texans for Lawsuit Reform over the last 20 years and the $800,000 he gave to Eva Guzman for her failed campaign for Texas attorney general against incumbent Ken Paxton.

Despite all his spending, Crow told the Dallas Morning News in an exclusive interview published Monday that he doesn’t consider himself a Republican megadonor.

“I have been a donor to moderate Republican individuals running for office, as well as groups that are involved in that kind of world to support more moderate Republican stuff,” Crow said.

I mean, “rich guy gives money to Republicans in Texas” is a tale as old as time, or at least of the last 40 years or so. It would have been real news if the only toy in his box was Clarence Thomas.

Harris County versus AG over when election records can be withheld

Interesting.

Christian Menefee

Harris County is battling Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office over its ability to withhold election records that have been requested under the state’s public information law.

In the case, filed last December, the county argues it should be able to reject requests for three types of information: voting records that are prohibited from release by state law for 22 months after an election, documents related to pending litigation, and working papers involved in ongoing audits.

The Texas Election Code, in keeping with the Civil Rights Act of 1960, bars officials from releasing anonymized completed ballots for 22 months after an election.

There has been a longstanding consensus that those election records are confidential during that period, according to Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee.

“And then, out of thin air, our current attorney general decided that those records were no longer confidential and had to be produced to the public for inspection immediately following the election,” Menefee said. “Again, this was a complete 180 from not only the law, but also previous opinions issued by previous attorneys general.”

Menefee said Paxton’s decision was driven by politics, not the law.

“It’s just a bad faith reading of the law to appease a certain part of his base,” Menefee said.

The county is asking a Travis County court to rule Paxton’s office wrongly concluded the county could not withhold those records, but others side with the attorney general’s interpretation. Williamson County also is suing the attorney general on the election ballots issue.

[…]

Chad Dunn, a longtime election lawyer based in Austin, said Harris County is doing the right thing by seeking a court ruling.

“There are good arguments on both sides on whether or not election records should be available within that period. And what I have found frustrating is that the state takes each side of that position depending on what the political stakes are at issue,” Dunn said. “So, getting a final ruling on it from the courts, to me, is the critical piece.”

Harris County also is fighting the attorney general’s determination that it must hand over records related to pending litigation.

The Texas Public Information Act includes that exemption to prevent the public from misinterpreting information before a case has had its day in court, which is particularly important when the litigation involves election misinformation, Menefee said.

“This is the quintessential example of people seeking to litigate something in the public sphere, and that’s why the Legislature passed the law allowing for documents to be withheld subject to the litigation exception,” Menefee said.

Menefee said the exception is standard practice at every level of government.

“In fact, just last week, the AG’s office notified us that they were asserting the litigation exception on something relevant to something going on in Harris County,” Menefee said.

See here for some background on the lawsuit, for which there are multiple counties as plaintiffs. The story also obliquely refers to the furniture guy lawsuit over election records, which is relevant to this litigation. I don’t have a whole lot more information here. As a matter of course, I’ll side with Harris County against Ken Paxton, but on a broader level I think Chris Dunn has this right. What we want is clear rules that are consistently applied, and we don’t want the state picking on its political enemies. We’ll see what we get, which I’m sure will eventually wind up before the Supreme Court.

One more thing:

The county has turned over some election-related documents to lawyers involved in the 22 election contest lawsuits filed by Republican candidates, Menefee said.

“To the extent that those cases end up going to trial, then all these issues are going to be litigated in public,” Menefee said.

Some of those lawsuits could go to trial by mid-June at the earliest.

Good to know.

Meanwhile, in Ken Paxton crime news…

Paxton buddy Nate Paul loses an appeal on the contempt charges against him.

A crook any way you look

The Austin real estate investor accused of bribing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton still faces 10 days in jail for contempt of court, after losing an appeal.

Paxton and the investor, Nate Paul, are the targets of an FBI investigation launched in late 2020 after Paxton’s aides accused their boss of abusing the power of his office and taking bribes from Paul, a friend and campaign donor.

A panel of the 3rd Court of Appeals largely agreed with Travis County Judge Jan Soifer’s criminal contempt of court order, though the appellate judges tossed two out of eight of Soifer’s violation findings because they found Paul was not given sufficient notice of the allegations, which infringed on his right to due process.

Soifer swiftly reissued the order Friday evening with the modifications the appellate court requested. Paul’s 10-day sentence is scheduled to begin April 10.

It is not clear yet whether he will appeal again. Paul’s attorney, Brent Perry, declined to comment.

In addition to the jail time, Soifer had also ordered Paul, who is enmeshed in legal battles with creditors over his crumbling business and bankruptcies, to pay over $180,000 in fines. Paul had not appealed that decision.

Soifer found that Paul failed to comply with a court order and repeatedly lied to her in court about it while under oath.

See here for the previous post and some starter posts for deeper background; as noted there, this rabbit hole goes way down. This Trib story has a brief summary.

Paul is central to allegations of corruption made against Paxton by eight of his former top deputies. Those deputies told authorities that Paxton had misused his office to benefit Paul, a friend and donor who had given $25,000 to Paxton in 2018.

Among the allegations was Paxton’s push to get the attorney general’s office involved in the Mitte Foundation’s lawsuit despite never previously showing interest in cases involving charities. In return, the employees said Paul donated to Paxton’s campaigns, helped him remodel his multimillion dollar home and hired Paxton’s alleged mistress. Paxton is married to state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.

The eight top deputies who accused Paxton of corruption were fired or resigned, but their reports spurred an FBI investigation into Paxton that is now being led by the U.S. Department of Justice.

No charges have been filed. Both Paul and Paxton have denied the allegations.

Last June, Soifer issued an order that Paul report any spending over $25,000 by him or his businesses that could otherwise be used to pay the $2 million judgment he owed Mitte. The order required Paul to share monthly reports of his spending with the court.

Paul did not submit those reports for five months. In November, a few days before the court would consider Mitte’s request to hold Paul in contempt, Paul filed his first report. But in court, the nonprofit’s lawyers argued that 12 days after Soifer’s order went into effect, Paul had paid $100,000 to Avery Bradley, a former University of Texas at Austin and NBA basketball player who had filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Paul’s firm, World Class Holdings.

When Paul was asked about the payment at the hearing, he said he did not remember it, only to later acknowledge the payment in an amended report to the court, Soifer wrote. She found that payment violated her order because it was not made for “fair value” because Paul did not get anything in return.

Soifer also found that Paul lied about bank statements in court and falsely swore under oath that he had made no payments over $25,000 in violation of her order.

“Mr. Paul’s lies to the court while under oath were pervasive and inexcusable, and served to deliberately thwart the functions of the Court,” Soifer wrote.

The appeals court threw out three other violations for a separate $963,000 payment made by another of Paul’s companies, Westlake Industries, because Soifer had not given Paul “full and unambiguous” notice that he could be held in contempt for those violations.

In her new order, Soifer berated Paul for repeatedly disobeying the court orders in the case and other related lawsuits.

“He has been sanctioned numerous times in the past, and such sanctions have failed to deter Mr. Paul from continued disobedience of court orders and lack of candor with the Court,” she wrote.

Anyway. As the attorney for one of the parties suing Nate Paul said, this has been a bad week for him. And that makes it good for the rest of us.

Abortion funds go back to work

Glad to see it, but I’m waiting for another shoe to drop.

Some abortion advocacy nonprofit groups have resumed paying for Texans to get abortions out of state after a court ruling last month.

These groups, called abortion funds, stopped paying for abortion procedures and travel to out-of-state clinics after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, citing confusion and fear of violating Texas’ intersecting abortion bans.

Virtually overnight, all of Texas’ abortion clinics closed — and the infrastructure that helped Texans access out-of-state care evaporated alongside them. Many of the people these funds work with likely could not afford to leave the state without their financial support, said Denise Rodriguez, communications director with the Texas Equal Access Fund.

“When we found out we had to pause funding, that was something that was really heartbreaking for everybody on our team,” Rodriguez said. “Now that we’re able to start funding abortions again, that’s what this organization was started for, so everybody is just excited.”

The Dallas-based TEA Fund provides Texans vouchers that lessen the costs of abortions at out- of-state clinics. Rodriguez said they have enough funding to assist anyone who calls in between Monday, when their hotline reopens, and June 24, the one-year anniversary of the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Fund Texas Choice, a statewide group that assists with travel expenses, said on Twitter that they have reopened their hotline and are resuming limited practical support.

The Austin-based Lilith Fund has also reopened its hotline and is funding out-of-state abortions again, a spokesperson said.

Other groups are preparing to relaunch their funding mechanisms as well. This flurry of activity comes after a federal judge granted a temporary injunction in February, blocking a handful of county prosecutors from pursuing charges against anyone who helps a Texan access abortion out of state.

The ruling is not binding statewide, but it has reassured some groups enough to resume operations.

“All of it is so uncertain, but we’re going to fund abortions until we’re forced to stop,” Rodriguez said.

See here for the background. I fear this is what an economics professor of mine would have called an unstable equilibrium. Something will happen, either a ruling in an existing lawsuit, the filing of a new lawsuit, the passage of a new law in the Lege, some Presidential executive action, or something else like that, that will disrupt this. All things considered, I’d expect it to be something bad. What it is and when it might happen, I have no idea. I just don’t think what’s happening now will still be the case in, say, another six months or a year. I’ll refer to this post later when we find out.

Appealing the injunction that halted DFPS investigations of trans kids’ families

Just keeping you informed.

Attorney General Ken Paxton, in an appeal, is asking the courts to lift an injunction that stopped the state from conducting child abuse investigations over transition-related medical care for transgender youth. Paxton argued that the families — belonging to PFLAG, an LGBTQ advocacy group — did not suffer injuries as a result of the Department of Family and Protective Services’ investigations.

A June lawsuit against the state, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal representing the families of transgender youth, resulted in a temporary injunction which paused the DFPS investigations, ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier last year.

Paxton filed the brief on Friday in response to the plaintiffs’ request that the injunction be upheld in January. In his reply, Paxton sought to overturn that court-order injunction issued in September.

The 3rd Court of Appeals will determine if the injunction will hold up, either by hearing from both sides in oral arguments or simply ruling on the briefs filed. Until then, the injunctive relief will remain in place, according to Karen Loewy, senior counsel and director of constitutional law practice for Lambda Legal.

“There was nothing new about the State’s arguments at all, and thus far, they’ve been rejected by every court that has heard them,” Loewy said in an email.

If the court sides with Paxton, it’s not clear if the DFPS investigations of parents of trans kids would resume. The agency declined to comment on the litigation.

[…]

Paxton said the families have not experienced specific injuries stemming from these investigations, arguing that parents have not lost custody of their children as a result of the investigation and therefore that claim has no standing.

“Thus, [families] have not been injured and their suit is not ripe until their injury is imminent or has already occurred,” Paxton wrote in his appeal.

PFLAG asserted that the state interfered with their parental rights, which are guaranteed in the Texas Constitution. Abbott’s directive ordering DFPS to investigate families has instilled fear in LGBTQ youth who are afraid the state will separate them from their parents. Abbott’s order even forced one family to flee the state.

Paxton also said that PFLAG, which has 600 members, shouldn’t be allowed to stand in for families who could be investigated for child abuse. He said the individual families must participate in the lawsuit in order to provide evidence of injury by the particular investigations directed by Abbott.

See here for the background. I don’t even have the words to respond to the claim that the targeted families have not “experienced specific injuries” from these investigations or the threat of them; that the argument is being made by the guy who fled from a process server because he “feared for his safety” just adds to the mind-melting gall of it. This will make it to the Supreme Court, assuming that one of the many anti-trans bills currently polluting the Lege doesn’t make it all moot. Anyway, there’s your update.

The Lege still doesn’t want to pay for Paxton’s whistleblower sins

Who can blame them?

A crook any way you look

Now midway through the legislative session, Paxton and state lawmakers are at a standstill, and taxpayers are caught in the middle.

Lawmakers have so far declined to include the settlement money in any budget bills, while Paxton argues that the agreement would ultimately save taxpayers from funding a lengthy court case that may end with a higher price tag.

The whistleblowers’ accusations have prompted an ongoing Department of Justice investigation of Paxton, who has denied any wrongdoing. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Political experts say the Legislature’s reluctance to embrace the agreement could be a tactic to pressure Paxton to either pay for the settlement himself or answer for the corruption allegations in court.

“It’s like the Legislature is telling Paxton that this is his problem to take care of,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “This is as close as Paxton will come to a political sanction from his party for his actions. … The party is not going to directly say that they think that he’s done wrong, but they certainly don’t want to be on the hook to foot the bill.”

Lawmakers suggested at a budget hearing last month that Paxton should use his own campaign funds to settle the case, as the state’s election laws allow. But a Paxton staffer interjected, noting that whistleblower laws hold the office accountable, not the officeholder.

[…]

As of January, Paxton had $2.3 million in his campaign war chest and $1.3 million in outstanding loans. He would have to fundraise to pay off the rest of the settlement — a “horrific” option for the attorney general, Rottinghaus said.

The whistleblowers on Wednesday requested that the Texas Supreme Court lift its temporary pause on the case. If Paxton and the whistleblowers remain at an impasse through the end of legislative session in May, they’ll all head back to court.

Chris Hilton, the general litigation division chief and a lawyer for Paxton, accused the whistleblowers on Thursday of trying to “undo the agreement by filing a misleading brief with the Texas Supreme Court, all the while coordinating with the media to create drama.”

“We’ll continue to seek a cost-efficient resolution, even while the plaintiffs needlessly drag this process out,” Hilton said.

Turner pushed back on that claim, pointing to a court filing by the attorney general’s office in which Paxton’s attorneys agreed that “should the parties prove unable to obtain funding,” they would jointly ask the Texas Supreme Court to resume the case.

“As we negotiated the formal agreement, the attorney general backtracked and would not agree to a deadline for legislative approval,” Turner said. “Anyone reading this can easily decide for themselves who is being misleading and who is dragging this process out.”

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said Paxton is essentially giving the Legislature an ultimatum: “‘Pay to clean up my mess, or as I stall on this set of corruption charges brought against me by my former employees, that could sum up to a great deal more than $3.3 million.’”

The only reason the attorney general’s staff knows the cost could be higher, Jillson said, “is because they intend to stretch this thing out as far as possible.”

With two months left in the legislative session, there’s still plenty of time for lawmakers to change their minds, but it’s a touchy subject.

See here for the background. I remain fine with the stance that the Lege has taken so far, however doubtful I am about their resolve. Put simply, don’t bail out Ken Paxton. I recognize that this puts a burden on the whistleblowers, who did us all a favor by coming forward like this, and I regret that they are caught in the middle. I also maintain that approving the settlement and cutting the AG’s budget by an equivalent (or greater!) amount would be fine, but I have yet to see any suggestion of that in any of these stories. Changing the law to allow Paxton to pay this with his campaign funds might be OK, and there are other ideas that could work. All I care is that no one takes Paxton off the hook. If that means the taxpayers face a bigger payout down the line, so be it. The point is that he should own it all. The Trib has more.

The whistleblowers’ un-settlement

Plot twist!

A crook any way you look

The whistleblowers who sued Attorney General Ken Paxton say they’re headed back to court unless he agrees that the Legislature must approve their proposed $3.3 million settlement before the current legislative session ends in May.

They are the four former aides to Paxton who allege he fired them in retaliation for reporting him to federal authorities for bribery and abuse of office. Paxton has denied all wrongdoing. Their lawyers said Wednesday they were “forced” to file a motion in an Austin appellate court Wednesday asking for the case to resume.

In a joint statement, the lawyers said a deadline of the end of session for payment was the “fundamental premise upon which they asked us to negotiate in the first place.”

“So we’ll go back to court, where the taxpayers will end up paying more to defend (the Office of the Attorney General) than they would to settle this case,” the lawyers said. “We would still settle the case if the Legislature approved the payment this session, but we cannot and did not agree to give OAG the benefit of a settlement while the whistleblowers wait in perpetuity for legislative approval.”

The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some members of the Legislature, including Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, have expressed opposition to approving the settlement. Earlier this month, Phelan said in an interview with CBS DFW that he did not think it was a “proper use of taxpayer dollars.” Taxpayers are already on the hook for $600,000 in legal fees for Paxton’s defense.

[…]

The case now returns to the Texas Supreme Court, where it landed after Paxton appealed in December 2021 a decision by the 3rd Court of Appeals that upheld a lower court’s finding that the state’s whistleblower protection law should have prevented the employees from being fired.

The all-Republican court had not yet decided whether it would grant the case when the whistleblowers and Paxton asked them to hold off on any decisions while the parties finalized their settlement agreement. The court could decide to grant or deny at any time; it is not subject to a deadline.

In addition to the $3.3 million payment, the settlement, which the parties announced last month, would have required Paxton to remove a news release from his website that is critical of the employees. He also would have had to state in the agreement that he “accepts that plaintiffs acted in a manner that they thought was right and apologizes for referring to them as ‘rogue employees.'”

See here, here, and here for some background. The Trib adds some details.

The multimillion-dollar settlement, announced last month, would give back pay to the four former employees and would include an apology from Paxton as well as other concessions. But the agreement needs to be approved by state lawmakers, who have expressed an unwillingness to use taxpayer dollars to settle Paxton’s case. At the request of the parties in January, the Texas Supreme Court put the whistleblower case on pause while the two sides looked to finalize the deal. But without a deadline, the case could be on pause indefinitely, attorneys for the former employees said on Wednesday.

“Sadly, we have not been able to reach a final settlement because [the Office of the Attorney General] will not agree to include in the formal agreement a deadline for the legislature to approve funding this session, even though that was the fundamental premise upon which they asked us to negotiate in the first place,” the attorneys said in a statement. “So we’ll go back to court, where the taxpayers will end up paying more to defend OAG than they would to settle this case.”

Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He has denied wrongdoing.

Attorneys for the former employees said they would still settle the case if lawmakers approved the $3.3 million settlement this session.

“But we cannot and did not agree to give [the Office of the Attorney General] the benefit of a settlement while the whistleblowers wait in perpetuity for legislative approval,” they wrote.

The fired employees’ attorneys have urged lawmakers to approve the settlement, but its funding looks bleak after top legislators, including House Speaker Dade Phelan, came out against the use of state funds to settle the case. The Legislature’s top budget writers did not include the settlement in their first draft of bills to resolve miscellaneous legal claims.

In a filing to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, attorneys for the former employees said the attorney general’s office has told them verbally that they have put the whistleblowers in a “gotcha position.” If lawmakers do not approve funding for the settlement by the end of this legislative session on May 29, the attorney general’s office has said the whistleblower case should remain on pause until the next legislative session in 2025. If it is not approved again, the filing reads, the attorney general’s office has said the case should remain on pause until the following session in 2027.

“And so on in perpetuity. [The Office of Attorney General] tells Respondents the case will never resume; they have given up their claims forever, even if legislative approval is not forthcoming,” the filing reads. “[The Office of Attorney General] thus reaps all benefits of a settlement, and [the former employees] achieve none.”

In written communications, the fired employees’ attorneys say Paxton’s office has been “craftier,” arguing that it is still researching what would happen if the Legislature refuses to approve the settlement and will not address that potential outcome until it happens.

The fired employees’ attorneys blasted both positions as “preposterous,” arguing that they would have never agreed to put the case on pause indefinitely or for a lengthy time period.

The motion to pause the case — which was requested, drafted and filed by the attorney general’s office with agreement by the fired employees — was “intended to briefly postpone” any potential ruling while the two sides sought legislative approval for the $3.3 million settlement. But attorneys for the fired employees say Paxton’s refusal to set a deadline is preventing the two sides from completing the settlement agreement while at the same time not letting their case against him move forward.

Couple things. First, let’s remember that SCOTx was going to rule on the question of whether Paxton could be sued at all under the Texas Whistleblower Act. Paxton had argued that he could not be sued under that law because he’s not public employee, because elected officials don’t count under that law. By asking SCOTx to resume their deliberation on that question, the four plaintiffs are risking that their answer will be to rule in Paxton’s favor and toss the lawsuit altogether. And even if they win on that question, it just means that the lawsuit can go back to a district court and be heard on its merits. Which, again, they could lose, or they could get a lesser amount awarded to them. And the whole thing will then have to go through the appeals process, because of course Paxton will fight it for as long as he’s in office, and the verdict could get overturned or the award could be reduced, and the whole thing could take years. Whatever else you may think about their case and the initial settlement, these guys are taking a substantial risk by doing this.

But you can see why they’re willing to take that risk. Paxton, who has always been able to turn a bad situation of his own making into an advantage, is using the Lege’s understandable unwillingness to pay for his sins as an indefinite stalling tactic. As things stand now, he has zero incentive to take any action. The case is frozen in amber. And even if SCOTx ultimately rules that the lawsuit can proceed, if there’s one other thing (besides criming) that Paxton is good at, it’s delaying legal reckonings. Who knows how long he could draw this out, assuming he remains in office?

All of which suggests a fairly easy way out for SCOTx, if they want to take it. They can rule that the Lege doesn’t have to apportion any money to pay the settlement, and let Paxton pay for it out of whatever budget the Lege sees fit to give him. This is of course what I have been arguing they should do, as it is the most fair and just solution at this point, so I’m a little biased. But, you know, it really is a good solution – it allows the whistleblowers to get their back pay and their apology, it guards against a much larger potential verdict while also not putting the public on the hook, and it makes Paxton bear the brunt of the financial penalty. It might damage the AG office’s ability to do its job, but that’s just too bad. This is what happens when you put a crook in charge of law enforcement. I hope SCOTx comes to the proper conclusion and saves us all a multi-year saga.

Nate Paul jailed for contempt

Just a little story about one of Ken Paxton’s close personal friends.

Also associates with known criminals

A real estate investor accused of bribing the Texas attorney general has been ordered to pay over $180,000 in fines and spend 10 days in jail for contempt of court in Travis County.

The case is one of many that Nate Paul, a friend and campaign donor of Attorney General Ken Paxton, faces as he fights multiple bankruptcies and legal battles with creditors.

He and Paxton are the targets of an FBI investigation launched in late 2020 when Paxton’s aides went to local and federal authorities, claiming the second-term Republican abused his office and took bribes from Paul.

According to a letter from a staff attorney for Travis County District Judge Jan Soifer obtained by Hearst Newspapers, Paul is being punished for ignoring a court order, then later lying about it under oath. The court is fining him $181,760, and his confinement is set to begin March 15.

“Mr. Paul’s flagrant lies to the court while under oath were pervasive and inexcusable, and served to deliberately thwart the functions of the court in enforcing its injunction,” a staff attorney for Soifer wrote on her behalf. “Mr. Paul’s actions are part of a pattern of non-compliance with court orders.”

[…]

The conflict at the heart of the case goes back to 2011 when the nonprofit invested a portion of its endowment in Paul’s companies and a share of his properties. The nonprofit later accused the companies of breaching their contract by refusing to make certain financial disclosures.

Soifer approved an arbitrator’s $1.9 million judgment against Paul in July 2021, ordering that Paul’s companies shut down.

That was when Soifer issued the injunction that Paul flouted, which was meant to prevent him from moving or getting rid of assets to hide them from the court.

Paul appealed the district court’s decision in late 2021, but the panel of appellate judges affirmed the district court ruling against him. Court records indicate Paul’s attorneys plan to request a rehearing on that decision by the full court.

According to the letter from the district judge’s office, despite the injunction, Paul made at least two unauthorized transfers totaling just over $1 million. Paul was required by the injunction to file monthly sworn reports to the court showing all money transfers greater than $25,000, but he failed to report them, the letter said.

Paul later committed perjury by offering false testimony while being questioned by opposing counsel and Soifer, the letter from her office said. He lied about making the transfers, as well as about his own personal bank accounts, even when confronted with evidence of the accounts.

Chester said Paul lied at two separate court hearings in November 2022. At the first one, Chester presented Paul with his own bank statements, and Paul claimed he could not recognize them.

The court recessed for a week to allow Paul time to collect and bring in the bank records himself, so there would be no question of authentication. But at the next hearing, Paul also “completely lied about what bank accounts he had” and claimed he only had $6,000 to his name even though he lives a very luxurious lifestyle,” Chester said.

“The whole thing was very not-believable and showed utter disregard for the court,” Chester said.

If you’ve ever watched a TV show or movie based on some hot piece of longstanding intellectual property – say, a Marvel movie or The Mandalorian or Lord of the Rings, that sort of thing – you surely are aware that no matter how much you may think you know about the subject matter or the characters and their backstories, there’s so much more out there that not only do you not know it, you don’t even know enough to know that you don’t know it. There is Deep Lore that can only be fully understood by the most robust of nerds, who have spent their lives reading the books and comics and blogs and Wikipedia pages and fan fiction and watching the movies and bootleg videos and listening to the podcasts and on and on and on. You live in 2023, you know what I’m talking about.

Well, I’m here to tell you that the story of Nate Paul and his connections to Ken Paxton and all of the twists and turns and cul-de-sacs and rabbit holes associated with them are too deep and byzantine for even the likes of me to get my arms around. Suffice it to say that there’s more to this story than I can adequately summarize from this Chron article or this Trib story which is more expansive and would have required almost a complete copy-and-paste job to make sense here. Read them both, read through all of my Nate Paul-tagged posts, starting with these two – you can tell by the title of the first one that you’re already in a story in progress – and try your best to keep up. Just know that at the end of the day, Ken Paxton is a huge sleazeball who hangs around with a bunch of other sleazeballs, and sleazeballing is his core competency. The rest – so, so much of the rest – is details. And, God willing, the basis of an eventual federal indictment.

So whose fault is the Sidney Powell lawsuit dismissal?

My reaction to the news that the lawsuit brought by the State Bar of Texas against Trump nutcase lawyer Sidney Powell was being dismissed was that it was the State Bar’s fault for screwing up the paperwork. The DMN editorial board puts the blame elsewhere.

A local Republican judge’s decision to throw out the State Bar of Texas’ disciplinary case against former Donald Trump lawyer Sidney Powell on flimsy technical grounds was a disservice to the public the judge serves.

Collin County state District Judge Andrea Bouressa last week granted Powell’s motion for a summary judgment largely because of filing and clerical errors bar lawyers made. Among the mistakes Bouressa found so egregious were a mislabeling of the bar’s exhibits and a failure to file a sworn affidavit attached to a motion.

What a travesty of justice. Such errors occur in court cases often. And while not excusable, they shouldn’t be a basis for a judge to throw out such a serious case without considering evidence.

[…]

There’s no question the state bar made some careless errors in its brief asking the judge to deny Powell’s motion to dismiss the case for lack of evidence. Exhibits were clearly mislabeled and some were altogether missing.

But Bouressa’s heavy-handed ruling is concerning. First, it wasn’t rendered as part of an in-person hearing, during which the filing issues may well have been quickly resolved in open court.

Rather, her decision came after her private review of the parties’ documents. Her judgment says that she tried to contact the bar’s lawyers for clarification on their confusing exhibits, but it “responded that no corrective action was necessary.”

That’s puzzling. The court file revealed only one email exchange between Bouressa’s court coordinator and a legal assistant at the bar, and it involved only one question about one exhibit. The assistant answered the question.

We understand it’s within Bouressa’s right to rule against a party for clerical errors. But legal experts tell us that appellate courts lately have been frowning upon judges who dismiss cases based on filing mistakes rather than on actual evidence.

That’s what happened here. Eric Porterfield, associate professor at the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law and an expert in civil procedure, reviewed the judgment for us and said it’s clear that while the bar was sloppy, Bouressa’s decision wasn’t based on the merits of the case.

Instead, the regal Bouressa got hung up on what she called the “defects” of the bar’s documents. In doing so, she shut the door on the public’s right for a full hearing of the facts surrounding Powell’s outlandish conspiracy theories that threatened the peaceful transfer of the power of the presidency.

See here for the background. As I said, my initial inclination, made with admittedly limited information, was that the State Bar screwed it up. If this take is more accurate, then they were screwed by the judge. The good news there is that appealing the dismissal is an option and it has a decent chance of working. If they do that, then I retract what I said before about the State Bar.

Abortion funds remain protected from prosecution

Good news, in the kind of world where this is needed at all, for now.

A federal judge issued a favorable ruling for Texas abortion funds, indicating they likely cannot be criminally charged for helping people travel out of state to terminate their pregnancies.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman temporarily blocked prosecutors in eight counties from pursuing charges against anyone who helps someone get an abortion outside of Texas. But his ruling indicated he believes the laws he has enjoined them from enforcing may not actually be in effect at all.

This lawsuit, filed two months after the overturn of Roe v. Wade, was brought by abortion funds, nonprofit groups that help pay for abortions and related expenses, including out-of-state travel, hotels and child care.

After the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the funds stopped paying for Texans to leave the state, citing their fear of being prosecuted under the state’s intersecting abortion bans. In the lawsuit, they cited examples of Attorney General Ken Paxton and state lawmakers expressing an intent to bring charges against abortion funds.

But Pitman ruled Friday that Paxton could not enforce Texas’ abortion bans against anyone who helped pay for an abortion out of state and dismissed him from the suit.

Pitman analyzed Texas’ three abortions laws: the ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, commonly known as Senate Bill 8; the so-called trigger law, which went into effect in July; and the pre-Roe statutes, which were in effect before the U.S. Supreme Court deemed them unconstitutional in 1973.

Since SB 8 is enforced through private civil lawsuits, neither Paxton nor local prosecutors play any role in enforcing that statute, Pitman noted.

Paxton and the district attorneys do have the power to enforce the trigger law, which comes with a sentence of up to life in prison and a minimum $100,000 penalty. The law criminalizes anyone who performs an abortion, except to save the life of the pregnant person.

But it cannot be enforced beyond state lines, Pitman found.

The law “does not express any intent, much less a clear one, to apply extraterritorially,” he wrote. “Accordingly, there is no plausible construction of the statute that allows the Attorney General or local prosecutor to penalize out-of-state abortions.”

That leaves only the pre-Roe statutes, which come with sentences of two to 10 years in prison for anyone who performs or “furnishes the means for” an abortion. Pitman found that the laws could potentially be interpreted to criminalize someone in Texas who helped someone pay for an abortion out of state.

“In other words, if an abortion takes place outside of Texas, a plausible (albeit unlikely) construction of the statute authorizes prosecution for ‘furnishing the means’ of that abortion if that ‘furnishing’ takes place in Texas,” Pitman wrote. “The pre-Roe laws prohibit ‘furnishing the means’ within the state, and do not necessarily limit that prohibition to abortions which occur in Texas.”

Pitman enjoined the named district attorneys — who represent Travis, Washington, Blanco, Burnell, Llano, San Saba and Caldwell counties — and a county attorney, representing Burleson County, from enforcing the pre-Roe statutes against the abortion funds while the case proceeds.

There is no civil penalty associated with the pre-Roe statutes, so Pitman dismissed Paxton from this line of inquiry — and thus the entire suit.

But in the ruling, Pitman also argued that the pre-Roe statutes have been repealed and therefore cannot be used to prosecute anyone.

See here for the background. I assume the Travis County DA, which was never going to willingly prosecute anything abortion-related, is there for technical reasons having to do with where state government and by extension the AG reside. This Reuters story has a couple of paragraphs that add a bit of clarity:

Pitman’s order, which is preliminary, will remain in place while abortion funding groups, including Fund Texas Choice, The North Texas Equal Access Fund and The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity, move forward with a lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of the laws.

The order applies only to five individual local prosecutors who are named as defendants in the case, though the groups have said they will seek to expand their case to include a class of all local prosecutors in the state. Pitman said that he could issue an order applying to a broader group of prosecutors in the future, after they have had a chance to appear in court.

In other words, this is a first step and there will be more cases like these to get injunctions against other prosecutors while the case gets argued on its merits for a final ruling. And then there will be appeals – there was no indication in the news as of Saturday that an appeal was planned, but by now we all know how this goes. I expect there to be more news about this, in the medium term if not the short term. Isn’t everything so much simpler now that the question of abortion access has been left up to the states? Reason has more.

Sidney Powell beats State Bar charges

I’m upset about this on two levels.

A state district judge dismissed a Texas state bar disciplinary case against Dallas attorney Sidney Powell for her role in disputing the 2020 election results as a lawyer for former President Donald Trump.

The State Bar of Texas filed a petition last March accusing Powell of professional misconduct by filing “frivolous” voter fraud lawsuits in four states, making false statements to a court and knowingly presenting false evidence. Powell filed lawsuits in Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona accusing election companies of vote manipulation.

The petition asked the court to decide the appropriate sanction, which could have ranged from reprimand to disbarment.

In the decision signed Wednesday, Andrea Bouressa, a Collin County district judge who heard the case filed in Dallas County, found “defects” with filings from Powell’s accuser, the Commission for Lawyer Discipline.

The commission, she ruled, mislabeled exhibits of evidence and failed to correct the errors when pointed out. That left two exhibits and those failed to meet the burden of the case, the judge said in granting Powell’s motion to dismiss the complaint.

[…]

Although the Texas court handed Powell a victory, her reputation continues to take a beating as evidence emerges in a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News from Dominion Voting Systems.

Last week, the company revealed that Powell’s “evidence” for allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election stemmed from a bizarre email by an unidentified author who attributed her insight to an ability to “time travel in a semi-conscious state.”

Dominion said Fox executives harmed its business by knowingly allowing hosts and guests to voice baseless and false assertions linking it to nonexistent vote fraud.

In depositions, Fox host Maria Bartiromo called the email that Powell had provided “nonsense,” according to Dominion’s filing.

And David Clark, then Fox’s senior executive over weekend shows, said that — had he known that Powell’s “crazy” theories were based on that email — he “would not have allowed that claim to be aired.”

See here for the background, and be sure to read the judge’s decision, it’s short and to the point. I’m upset that Powell won’t be sanctioned for all the obvious reasons – it really seems impossible to hold terrible people to account for their terrible actions these days – but if the weight of the evidence did not support a finding of guilt, then so be it. What really chaps me is that the State Bar appears to have completely bungled this, by not including all the evidence they said they had, mislabeling the evidence they did include, and not taking the opportunity to fix their clearly flawed exhibits when given the chance. I’m trying to think of a reason for this that isn’t rank incompetence on their part, and I’m having a hard time doing so. Whatever the reason was, we the people deserved a hell of a lot better than this. Any remaining optimism I may have had for their case against Ken Paxton took a beating with this outcome. Reuters and Forbes have more.

In support of Crystal Mason

Hoping for the best.

The same month Tarrant County officials announced the creation of an election integrity task force, a group of 14 bipartisan prosecutors threw their weight behind an effort to acquit the woman at the center of a high-profile voting fraud conviction in the county.

Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County resident, was sentenced to five years in prison for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election. Mason, who was on supervised release for a federal felony, was ineligible to vote, and while her ballot was never counted, Tarrant County prosecutors charged her with illegal voting. Mason has maintained that she did not know she was ineligible and her case has gained national attention among the media and civil liberty advocates.

Now, Mason is appealing her conviction for a second time in front of the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, after the state’s highest appeals court told those judges to reconsider their previous decision.

Their decision did not take into account whether Mason knew she was ineligible.

A bipartisan group of former state and federal prosecutors, organized by the States United Democracy Center, filed an amicus brief Feb. 14 in support of Mason’s appeal. Among the signees is Sarah Saldaña, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas and former director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I had this visceral reaction to the injustice manifested in the decision, No. 1, to prosecute, but also the ultimate conviction,” Saldaña said. “It’s obvious that this whole issue of intent was not charged in the jury charge. … That to me was very offensive, particularly as a former prosecutor, and particularly as the principal decision maker in North Texas, at the time when I was U.S. attorney.”

Mason’s intent is a key aspect of the amicus brief’s argument. The signees call her prosecution “outside the bounds of any reasonable exercise of prosecutorial power,” and point to wording in Texas’ illegal voting statute that requires voters have “actual knowledge” that they were committing a crime by voting.

Without enforcing the actual knowledge requirement, the signees argue Texas voters will be afraid to vote at all for fear of accidentally running afoul of voting laws.

“Ms. Mason’s prosecution sends the troubling message that casting a provisional ballot carries a serious risk, with a consequent chilling effect on the use of provisional ballots,” the prosecutors wrote. “This chill would likely disproportionately impact minority voters, who tend to cast more provisional ballots.”

See here and here for some background. There’s hope after that CCA ruling, but even if her conviction is overturned, Tarrant County could choose to try her again. And then there’s this:

Statewide, efforts by Republican lawmakers to make illegal voting a felony again are gaining steam. It’s currently a misdemeanor, after lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1 in 2021; the bill, among other things, lowered the penalty for illegal voting conduct.

Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, filed House Bill 397 to reverse that change. Sen. Bryan Hughes, who represents East Texas, filed a companion bill in the Senate, which was referred to the state affairs committee for review Feb. 15.

One of the Republican legislative goals for this session is to ensure there is a steady stream of Crystal Masons in the future. Overturning this conviction can’t do anything about that. Oh, and this is what actual voter suppression looks like. There are other ways to do it as well, but when it happens it’s very clear what it is.

Paxton makes his plea to the Lege

It’s more accurate to say that one of his assistants pleaded for him while he mostly sat silent, but whatever.

The only criminal involved

Days after the Texas house speaker openly opposed using taxpayer dollars to settle a whistleblower suit against Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, a top agency lawyer said avoiding the payout would only end up costing the state more.

“It’s ultimately in the interest of the state from a financial perspective” to pay the settlement now, Assistant Attorney General Chris Hilton told a panel of House budget writers. “Financially speaking, there is no upside for the state to this case; even total vindication at trial results in a significant expenditure.”

Hilton said the agency has already racked up $600,000 in legal fees fighting the lawsuit. The agency is required to use outside lawyers in the case because of the conflict of interest, which has driven up the cost, Hilton said.

[…]

Paxton, a Republican, was present Tuesday but deferred to his team for most answers.

State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, asked Paxton directly whether he would use his own campaign dollars. Hilton interjected, noting that the lawsuit is against the agency, not Paxton personally.

“There is no whistleblower case where any individual has paid anything because the individual is not liable under the terms of the statute,” Hilton said. He added, “Under the terms of the settlement, there is no admission of fault or liability or wrongdoing by any party.”

Under the state’s election code, Paxton is allowed to use campaign funds to cover his legal defense. Since he was sued in his official capacity, those costs are not considered a “personal use.”

It’s a different scenario than in 2016 when Paxton wanted to use out-of-state gifts to cover his legal defense in the ongoing securities fraud case against him. The Texas Ethics Commission at the time warned Paxton he would violate the law if he used those funds because the accusations in that case did not stem from his officeholder duties.

On Thursday, state prosecutors said the Department of Justice had transferred the most recent corruption case out of the hands of federal attorneys in Texas and into the Washington-based Public Integrity Section. The reason for the shift was unclear, though Paxton’s attorneys had requested it.

Tuesday’s budget hearing was the first time Paxton has faced lawmakers since the settlement was announced. Some House members seemed resigned about their options.

Texas Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, and Rep. Steve Allison, R-San Antonio, said the state seems to lose no matter if they pay now or after a hypothetical trial concludes.

“Even if you win, there is no ‘win,’” Spiller said, referring to how the state would still owe outside lawyers.

“We’re kind of in the proverbial rock and a hard place,” Allison said.”Either we pay $3.3 million now or pay far more than that either in additional legal expenses or (because of) an unfortunate result.”

State Rep. Mary González, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, questioned whether Paxton is acting in the public’s interest.

She noted Paxton has declined to represent some state agencies, a key duty of his office, leaving them to pay for outside legal counsel out of their own budgets and at an additional cost for taxpayers. An ongoing case by a conservative activist against the Texas Ethics Commission, for instance, has cost the state more than $1 million.

Hilton said that occurs only in a “tiny percentage” of cases, about 60 in the last year, most of which he said were because the agencies had asked for their own counsel. Others were because the statute did not allow the office to represent an agency, Hilton said, and a smaller amount were because a case conflicted with the state’s obligation to “uphold the Constitution.”

A lot of similarity to what the whistleblowrs’s attorneys were saying, though without any reference to their quest for justice against a crook, as that would have been super awkward. I’m beginning to wonder if any member of the Legislature is going to arrive at my proposal to pay off the settlement and then cut Paxton’s budget by a commensurate amount or if I’m going to need to hire a lobbyist to explain it to them. It’s not that hard, y’all! You can do it.

The Statesman adds a few extra bits.

Hilton argued the cost to taxpayers could exceed $3.3 million if the lawsuit were to continue, in part because the case is procedurally in the early stages, although “it has been pending for a while.” He said the discovery process has yet to begin and that undertaking is lengthy, intensive and costly.

“It strikes me that we’re kind of between the proverbial rock and a hard place in that we either pay the $3.3 million now, or pay far more than that, either in additional legal expenses or an unfortunate result,” said subcommittee member Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro.

[…]

When asked by lawmakers Tuesday what would happen if the Legislature does not approve the settlement payment, Hilton said it’s “difficult to predict” exactly what the next steps would be.

“Because it’s pending litigation, I don’t want to get into too many details,” Hilton said. “Under the terms of the settlement, it is contingent upon all necessary approvals.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Paxton also asked House lawmakers for additional money in the next biennium to hire more staff and to offer competitive pay.

Paxton said in recent years the agency has faced increasing turnover due to staff leaving for other state jobs that in some cases can nearly double their salaries at the attorney general’s office.

Maybe part of the problem is that Paxton is a terrible manager in addition to being the kind of corrupt boss that eight of his trusted lieutenants felt the need to sue, I dunno. My advice to the Lege for how to handle this stands. At the very least please don’t give him any more money. Surely by now we have all the evidence we need that he can’t be trusted with it.

Why should Ken Paxton’s whistleblowers suffer for his sins?

That’s the question their lawyers ask in a DMN op-ed.

The only criminal involved

The whistleblower suit is currently pending at the Texas Supreme Court on appeal of an esoteric argument made by the attorney general. Recently, the Office of the Attorney General and the whistleblowers reached a settlement where the whistleblowers would receive $3.3 million to compensate them for lost wages, compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees incurred in the 2-year-old court battle.

The Texas Legislature must now decide whether to approve payment of the settlement. If the Legislature does not approve payment, the case will return to court, taxpayers will pay millions more in attorneys’ fees and even more for damages and plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees if, as expected, the whistleblowers win a jury verdict. The attorney general’s office has already paid its private lawyers approximately $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and the parties have yet to even conduct discovery because of the appeal.

Some have criticized the settlement as “hush money” or argued that it would prevent the public from learning the details related to the accusations. This is incorrect. The whistleblowers have already provided tremendous detail in their 129-page lawsuit, which is a public document. Also, the settlement does not prohibit the whistleblowers from discussing the case or cooperating with law enforcement.

The suggestion that the whistleblowers should be forced to continue their lawsuit so discovery in the suit can be used to investigate the attorney general’s conduct is also unfair. The whistleblowers did their part. They reported illegal conduct to law enforcement and, in return, lost their careers. It is law enforcement’s job to investigate these allegations, which it appears they continue to do. Likewise, the Legislature has tremendous authority to demand documents and testimony from Paxton and those in his office, but it has not.

Why should the whistleblowers, who have already sacrificed their employment and already spent more than two years in court, be asked to spend even more resources and time to investigate the alleged conduct, when the FBI and the Texas Legislature have a mandate and countless resources available to do so?

See here and here for some background. The assertion about the Lege holding Paxton accountable aside – you probably heard my guffaw from the comfort of your home – they do made a decent point. That said, it is well within the Lege’s purview to approve the settlement and then cut the AG’s budget by an equal amount, which is what I would argue. We’ve heard some tough talk from some legislators and from Speaker Phelan. It’s all talk for now, and their track record isn’t too encouraging. But there is a clear path that does honor what the whistleblowers did – and by the way, y’all should keep on talking about it, in lots of detail and in front of crowds, as often as you can – while still exerting a modicum official disapproval on the waste of space known as Ken Paxton. It’s on the Republicans in the Lege to take it.

Fifth Circuit again takes Paxton off the hook for testifying in abortion funds’ lawsuit

It’s like deja vu all over again.

The only criminal involved

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will not have to testify in court as part of a lawsuit over whether abortion funds can help people access the procedure in states where it’s still legal.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday overruled an order from U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman for Paxton to appear, finding that he should have first ruled on Paxton’s motion to dismiss and that plaintiffs had not proven “exceptional circumstances” existed that would require his testimony. Paxton has argued the court should toss the suit because he has sovereign immunity, a legal principle that protects state officers and agencies from lawsuits.

[…]

Attorneys general rarely testify, as their office’s lawyers are typically able to explain the high-ranking official’s viewpoint and legal argument.

In its ruling Tuesday, the panel of Republican-appointed judges sided with Paxton, who had argued that it would be unduly burdensome for him to testify and that he did not have any unique knowledge of his office’s enforcement policies.

“The fact that a high-ranking official talks to his constituents does not ipso facto mean he also has ample free time for depositions,” the panel wrote in its ruling Tuesday, referencing Paxton’s public statements. “It is entirely unexceptional for a public official to comment publicly about a matter of public concern. If doing so imparts unique knowledge, high-level officials will routinely have to testify.”

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Fifth Circuit made a basically identical ruling in September. I was puzzled about the reason why this was litigated again, but a link in this story tells me that the district court judge had ordered Paxton to testify a second time, a couple of weeks after the Fifth Circuit ruled initially. I had just missed that story.

My reaction this time is the same as last time, which is that this doesn’t sound unreasonable, but as there’s every reason to be deeply suspicious of the Fifth Circuit I’d like to see an actual lawyer tell me that it’s reasonable, so that I don’t feel like a chump. Anyway, I guess the bottom line is that nothing much new has happened with this lawsuit.

So will the Lege pay off Paxton’s whistleblowers or not?

It’s maybe a bit more complicated than I thought at first.

Always a crook

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan says he is against using taxpayer money to pay Attorney General Ken Paxton’s $3.3 million settlement agreement in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by four former employees.

In an interview with CBS DFW on Wednesday, Phelan said it would not be “a proper use of taxpayer dollars” and that he does not anticipate that the $3.3 million cost will be included in the House budget.

“Mr. Paxton is going to have to come to the Texas House,” Phelan said. “He’s going to have to appear before the appropriations committee and make a case to that committee as to why that is a proper use of taxpayer dollars, and then he’s going to have to sell it to 76 members of the Texas House. That is his job, not mine.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has so far remained silent on the issue. Patrick’s office did not respond to an American-Statesman request for comment Thursday.

[…]

In a statement released Friday, Paxton said he agreed to the settlement to limit the cost of continuing the litigation.

“After over two years of litigating with four ex-staffers who accused me in October 2020 of ‘potential’ wrongdoing, I have reached a settlement agreement to put this issue to rest,” Paxton wrote. “I have chosen this path to save taxpayer dollars and ensure my third term as Attorney General is unburdened by unnecessary distractions. This settlement achieves these goals. I look forward to serving the people of Texas for the next four years free from this unfortunate sideshow.”

The whistleblowers filed the lawsuit against the Office of the Attorney General, not Paxton personally, so the Legislature will have to decide whether or not to appropriate public money to pay the bill.

See here for the background and my well-earned skepticism that the Republican legislature would ever hold Ken Paxton accountable for anything, and here for the original story. Before we get into the details, there’s this to consider.

Attorneys for four former employees who accused Attorney General Ken Paxton of corruption urged lawmakers on Friday not to oppose their $3.3 million settlement — which must be approved by the Legislature because it’s being paid out with taxpayer money.

The attorneys for Blake Brickman, David Maxwell, Mark Penley and Ryan Vassar — all former top deputies to Paxton in the attorney general’s office — said their clients “courageously reported what they believed to be corruption and put the investigation in the hands of law enforcement where it belongs” and were now asking lawmakers to back their efforts to report wrongdoing.

Rejecting the settlement could discourage others from coming forth to report wrongdoing in state agencies in the future, they said.

“No Texas legislator should oppose these whistleblowers’ hard-fought claim for compensation to which they are entitled under the Texas Whistleblower Act,” the attorneys wrote. “State employees cannot be expected to report government corruption in the future if they know the Legislature won’t back their rights under the statute it passed for the very purpose of protecting them.”

[…]

The settlement agreement was announced last Friday and would include the $3.3 million payments to the four employees who were fired and lost wages after reporting what they believed to be Paxton’s crimes. It would also include an apology from Paxton, the retraction of a news release that called the former deputies “rogue employees” and a statement that neither side admits fault in the case.

But the proposed settlement has garnered some opposition from the public and lawmakers because it would be paid out of state funds. Budget writers in the Senate, like Dallas Democrat Royce West, have also expressed skepticism about the agreement.

Under the Texas Whistleblower Act, plaintiffs are allowed to sue the employing agency where the retaliation happened, but not a specific employee in their personal capacity. That is why the payment would be paid out of state funds and not Paxton’s personal funds.

In their statement, the attorneys told lawmakers that the former employees had unfairly lost their jobs and been smeared by Paxton in news stories for reporting what they believed to be serious crimes.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Texas, which had been considering a Paxton appeal to the whistleblower suit, put the case on hold to give the parties time to finalize the agreement. The parties have until April 3 to figure out whether lawmakers will agree to the settlement and must notify the court about any changes in the proceedings.

While I could be persuaded that some number of Republican legislators might be a bit low on patience with Paxton, the four whistleblowers will be much more compelling to them. They were all conservative Republicans in good standing themselves, and agreeing to a settlement does sweep this contentious and embarrassing matter under the rug. If they have to take it to court and eventually win, the price tag will be much higher, and as before the state would be on the hook for it. As far as that goes, from a risk management perspective, approving the settlement makes sense.

That said, I don’t see why the Lege has to appropriate an extra $3.3 million to the AG’s office to pay it off. I do think they are well within bounds to appropriate whatever they would have without this, and tell Paxton to figure out his budget on his own. If that means he has to make some uncomfortable choices, that’s his problem and the consequences of his own actions. I think Speaker Phelan has the right idea here, but it wouldn’t hurt to spell it out to the members who might think that they have to explicitly cover this cost. The budget for the AG’s office will have more than enough funds to cover this check. Ken Paxton can do the work to make it happen. That’s the best way forwawrd.

Paxton federal corruption probe moved to DOJ

This is a little confusing at first, but it has some good news in there.

The only criminal involved

Justice Department officials in Washington have taken over the corruption investigation into Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, removing the case from the hands of the federal prosecutors in Texas who’d long been leading the probe.

The move was disclosed in a statement by state prosecutors handling their own case against Paxton. It’s the latest development in the federal investigation into the attorney general, who came under FBI scrutiny in 2020 after his own top deputies accused him of bribery and abusing his office to help one of his campaign contributors, who also employed a woman with whom Paxton acknowledged having had an extramarital affair.

The investigation of the three-term Republican is now being led by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which prosecutes allegations of official misconduct against elected leaders at the local, state and federal level. The U.S. attorney’s office in Texas was recently recused from the complex case after working on it for years — an abrupt change that came within days of Paxton agreeing to apologize and pay $3.3 million in taxpayer money to four of the former staffers who reported him to the FBI.

State prosecutors working on a separate securities fraud case against Paxton — Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer — said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday that they were notified of the move. They referred all questions to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.

It’s not known whether Paxton will face charges, although federal investigators in Texas who had worked the case believed there was sufficient evidence for an indictment, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing probe.

It was not immediately clear what prompted top Justice Department officials to recuse the federal prosecutors in West Texas but the move was pushed for by Paxton’s attorneys. One of his defense lawyers, Dan Cogdell, said Thursday that he’d previously appealed to agency officials to take the case out of the hands of the local U.S. attorney’s office, which he said had “an obvious conflict” because of the overlapping allegations and investigations that led to the probe of Paxton.

Eight of Paxton’s senior staff accused him of crimes in 2020 after the attorney general hired an outside lawyer to look into an Austin real-estate developer’s claims of wrongdoing by FBI agents and federal prosecutors who were separately investigating the developer. Those agents and lawyers are part of the same federal prosecutorial district as the ones who came to investigate Paxton.

“It was the right thing to do,” said Cogdell. He said federal officials had not informed him of the move and declined to comment further.

The overlap was known to officials within the Justice Department and publicly reported on by the AP within weeks of Paxton’s staff going to the FBI. Nonetheless, the agency left the investigation to be led by a career federal prosecutor based in San Antonio, who was previously best known for winning a money laundering and fraud case against a Democratic state senator.

It’s good and more than a little interesting to get an update on this story, especially given that I was despairing about the lack of information just a few days ago. I was a bit puzzled by this at first because I have thought about the probe into Paxton’s dealings with Nate Paul – which among other things led to the whole whistleblower saga and the settlement of same that just happened – as an “FBI investigation”. For sure, the FBI is a key player, but of course there is a prosecutor associated with it as well. Someone – several someones, really – has to believe that there may be a viable prosecution at the end of this, or it would be terminated, as there are other fish to be fried. The original someone was in the San Antonio office of the US Attorney, but as noted that office is also investigating Nate Paul, and since Paxton is an elected official there could be a conflict of interest there. To be honest, I’m unclear what that might be – either there’s evidence of a crime or there’s not – but if it’s the norm for these matters to be overseen in Washington by the Justice Department instead of by the local USA, then fine.

Two points to mention here. One is that this is evidence that the investigation in question is still active, and if the unnamed sources are to be believed, there is a future in which Paxton faces federal indictment, which should be a lot harder for him to stonewall and weasel out of, at least without an ally in the White House who can put a thumb on the scale for him. When that might be, God and maybe Merrick Garland only know. But at least it’s still out there. The fear was that the investigation had come to an end, as these things sometimes do, with nothing to show for it and no reason to make a news story of it.

And two, one way of reading this story is that it’s a story in the first place because the long-stonewalled prosecutors of the state case against Paxton mentioned it to a reporter. Maybe the AP heard about this transfer of the investigation on their own and reached out to Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer for a comment even though they don’t have anything to do with the federal case. It’s a plausible interpretation, they’d surely say something if they had something to say, and everyone knows about the state case that has dragged on since approximately the second Reagan administration. I just find it curious enough to wonder. For sure, getting this out there now, right after the whistleblower case was settled and Paxton got to do a bit of a victory dance, was a way to remind everyone that he still faces a lot of potential trouble, and maybe dampens his mood a little. I am 100% speculating here, I could be completely off base. I’m just saying this is what came to mind when I read that paragraph.

Anyway, whatever came to your mind, there’s more at Daily Kos, the Trib, and the Chron. If we do hear more about this case going forward, that would be nice.