DALLAS (TBEN) – The FBI recently opened a criminal investigation into allegations that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton abused his office for the benefit of a wealthy donor.
The investigation, which was confirmed to The The Bharat Express News by two people with knowledge who spoke on condition of anonymity as the investigation is ongoing, marks an escalation in the latest controversy surrounding the high-profile Republican, who spent years under indictment on non-state securities fraud charges.
The FBI’s interest in Texas’s top law enforcement official grew out of a rebellion by top Paxton MPs, who accused him of breaking the law by using his office to help a wealthy donor with a struggling real estate empire who also hired a woman the groom married. Paxton reportedly had an affair.
Paxton has largely denied wrongdoing and refused calls to resign, saying he will seek a third term in 2022 and is ready to fight in court. He has weathered other storms during his rise to become one of the country’s leading legal crusaders for conservative causes.
With the complex drama likely to continue, here’s what you need to know about the Paxton cases:
WHAT IS PAXTON’S HISTORY?
Paxton, a 57-year-old lawyer, was a Texas lawmaker before becoming state attorney general in 2015. His wife was later elected to her former Senate seat representing suburban Dallas.
An evangelical conservative, Paxton has positioned himself as a fierce fighter for right-wing causes and a close ally of President Donald Trump. He has taken legal action to overturn the Affordable Care Act, to end an Obama-era program that protected immigrant youth from deportation, and to limit postal voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
He has also been dogged by ethical questions for much of his public life and has spent most of his tenure as attorney general maintaining his innocence in the face of securities fraud charges. Paxton pleaded not guilty to three counts in 2015 and narrowly won re-election three years later.
His lawyers and allies have managed to block the fraud case for years and it is still unclear when or where he could be tried.
WHY THE FBI INVESTIGATES PAXTON?
As this month’s election draws near, Paxton’s top MPs have shaken Texas politics by accusing him of breaking the law to help businessman Nate Paul.
Seven senior lawyers in Paxton’s office reported him to the FBI in late September, accusing him of abusing his office, bribery and other crimes. The group included some of Paxton’s longtime allies and were later joined by the agency’s law enforcement chief. All eight have since quit, been placed on leave or been fired, leading to a whistleblower trial.
The extent of what Paxton employees told the FBI is unknown, and the agency has consistently declined to comment.
Paxton’s actions appear to have helped Paul in at least four ways. But the one that got his staff to report it was Paxton’s hiring of an outside lawyer to investigate Paul’s allegations that the FBI, federal judges and others were conspiring against him.
Lawyers in the Paxton office felt that Paul’s claims were unsubstantiated and did not fall within the jurisdiction of their office. The Houston attorney Paxton hired had no prosecution experience but had ties to Paul’s defense attorney.
Paxton largely did not answer questions, but said there was nothing in the allegations against him.
WHO IS NATE PAUL?
Paul is an Austin-based developer in his early 30s who owns properties valued at over $ 1 billion. His hold over this empire has been called into question due to overdue debt and spiraling legal issues.
Last year, the FBI raided Paul’s offices and lavish home. An FBI document obtained by the TBEN suggests that the investigation is focused on possible securities fraud.
Paul has not been publicly charged with any crime and alleges that FBI agents, a federal judge and others broke the law during the searches. In another criminal investigation request that reached Paxton’s office, Paul claimed businessmen and another judge were conspiring to steal $ 200 million from his properties.
WHAT CONNECTS PAXTON AND PAUL?
In Texas, most criminal cases are handled by local prosecutors. Paxton’s unusual decision to respond to Paul’s complaints raised red flags for his deputies and questions about Paxton’s friendly relationship with Paul.
Paul gave Paxton $ 25,000 in his 2018 re-election campaign, but the full nature of their ties remains unclear.
A significant connection emerged when Paul said in a deposition this month that he hired a woman on Paxton’s recommendation. Paxton admitted to having an extramarital affair with her in 2018, when she was an assistant in the state Senate, two people told the TBEN. They spoke on condition of anonymity over fears of retaliation.
Paul said he didn’t hire the woman as a favor to Paxton, who didn’t deny that the affair happened.
Paxton suggested in a statement that he took Paul’s case because that’s what Texans expect.
“I make no apologies for being a fierce investigator and defender of individual rights in the face of potentially unreasonable and authoritarian actions,” Paxton said. “Doing so is not favoritism.”
Paul’s attorney, Michael Wynne, criticized Paxton’s office for spoiling the investigations and suggested that Paul could take legal action.
Paxton’s office dropped the investigation into Paul’s complaints in October after the allegations against the attorney general became public and local prosecutors expressed concern.
Since then, information has leaked to the press and various legal proceedings against Paul. This net could turn into a geyser if the former employees suing Paxton were able to take depositions and obtain documents by discovery.
But FBI investigations often take months or years and normally only become public if someone is accused.
The controversy has not turned Paxton’s party against him. Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas Republicans expressed initial concerns over the allegations, but remained silent for weeks and exerted no public pressure on him to step down.
In next year’s legislative session, lawmakers could censor or remove Paxton. But the latter is rare in Texas, and the attorney general has an advocate in his wife, Senator Angela Paxton.
For now, Paxton tells “citizens of Texas” that he will continue to defend them – including in his own court cases.
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