For years, Ken Paxton has been able to avoid ethics complaints, criminal charges, and an FBI investigation thanks to the privileges and protections that come with being Texas’ top attorney.
The Texas Senate’s decision on Saturday to exonerate Paxton of all corruption-related allegations in the wake of his impeachment trial has once again shown the Republican’s exceptional political fortitude. And in future legal confrontations, he will still have the attorney general’s office to defend him.
Following his exoneration, Paxton, 60, thanked his solicitors for “exposing the absurdity” of the “false allegations” made against him and vowed to carry on fighting the Joe Biden administration in court.
“The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle political differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt,” he said in a statement. “Now that this shameful process is over, my work to defend our constitutional rights will resume.”
Despite being back in office, Paxton still faces significant risk on three fronts: a federal investigation that is still ongoing into the same accusations that resulted in his impeachment; a disciplinary action for his attempt to rig the 2020 presidential election; and felony securities fraud charges that date back to 2015. Here are some details on each:
When eight of Paxton’s top deputies reported him for allegedly breaching the law to aid a wealthy donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, the FBI launched an investigation.
The main grounds for Paxton’s impeachment were the former deputies’ allegations that he had used his authority improperly to aid Paul. The impeachment probe, according to Texas House of Representatives lawmakers, was spurred by the still-unresolved issue of paying for a $3.3 million settlement in a lawsuit filed by four of the deputies.
A number of Paxton’s former subordinates testified against him. They described going to the FBI, and they stated in court that the attorney general attempted to assist Paul in avoiding a different FBI probe.
Additionally, they stated that Paul worked with a woman with whom Paxton had an adulterous relationship. Drew Wicker, a different ex-employee, claimed Paxton’s second-in-command afterwards discouraged him from talking to the FBI.
Paul was charged with making false representations to banks in a June indictment. He entered a not guilty plea and was not asked to give a statement during the impeachment hearing.
Years-long federal investigation of Paxton was transferred in February from Texas prosecutors to ones in Washington, D.C. According to two persons with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the confidentiality requirements surrounding grand jury procedures, federal prosecutors started using a grand jury in San Antonio in August to look into Paxton and Paul’s activities.
One claimed Wicker, Paxton’s former personal assistant, testified before the grand jury. Wicker stated during the impeachment hearing that he once overheard a builder tell Paxton he should check with ‘Nate’ about the price of upgrades for the attorney general’s Austin house.
Paxton has always maintained his innocence. In August, Dan Cogdell, one of his defence attorneys, confirmed that investigators were still speaking with witnesses but claimed the “case will go nowhere at the end of the day.”
A CASE OF SECURITIES FRAUD
Paxton was charged with misleading investors in a software firm in the Dallas region in 2015 by failing to disclose that he was being paid by the company, Servergy, to recruit the investors. He has pled not guilty and faces a sentence of five to 99 years in jail if found guilty.
Just a few months after Paxton was sworn in as attorney general, the indictments were announced. Despite them, he won a second and third term.
Paxton’s trial has been postponed due to legal wrangling over where it should be held—in the Dallas or Houston area, by a different judge, and over how much the special prosecutors should be paid.
The Texas Supreme Criminal Court decided that Paxton’s trial would continue in Houston weeks after the Republican-controlled Texas House moved to impeach him. After the impeachment trial, the judge presiding over it indicated in August that she would schedule the trial.
In that same month, Cogdell predicted that if Paxton lost his job, he may consider entering into a plea deal.
THE DISCIPLINARY HEARING
An ethics lawsuit initiated by the state bar was also put on hold throughout Paxton’s impeachment trial.
Paxton urged the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020 to essentially reverse Joe Biden’s election victory over then-President Donald Trump on the grounds of false allegations of fraud. The request was denied by the top court.
Following that, a number of complaints were made to the State Bar of Texas stating that Paxton and a constable had engaged in improper behaviour during the suit. Initially ignoring the accusations, the bar later opened an investigation.
The bar filed a lawsuit last year, alleging that Paxton and his second-in-command were “dishonest” before the Supreme Court and asking for vague discipline against them.
Paxton brushed off the bar’s legal actions as “meritless” political retaliation. The attorney general’s office has contended that because the bar is a part of the judicial branch and it is an executive branch agency, the cases violate the state constitution’s provision on the separation of powers.
This reasoning was accepted by the court presiding over the bar’s prosecution of the constable, Brent Webster. But in July, he was overturned on appeal. Another court had set Paxton’s disciplinary hearing arguments for that month, but postponed them when it became evident they would conflict with his impeachment trial.
After Paxton was removed from office, the attorney general’s office nonetheless defended him in the case. Paxton might face disbarment, suspension, or other penalties if it’s determined that he broke any ethics standards.