SAN ANTONIO – The Texas attorney general who attempted to orchestrate President Donald Trump’s latest estate spent most of his career on fraud charges in government securities, but his closeness to the president had reinforced that focal point. Trump listens to Ken Paxton. He called so often that the White House once caught him in the shower. And the attorney general had the digits to call him back.
Paxton’s star appeared to be on the rise as he positioned himself as one of Trump’s greatest allies, willing to lead litigation in protected cities, the Affordable Care Act, and now the result of the presidential election. But the shadows over Texas’ popular Attorney General have lengthened. Trump lost the election. Paxton’s last attempt to overturn the US Supreme Court ruling has failed. His top MPs recently reported him to the FBI for alleged crimes such as bribery. And the Associated Press reported that he cheated on his wife.
Paxton, a tea party darling known as a shrewd politician, didn’t respond to requests for comment, but he looked cheerful on Thursday speaking to a conservative commenter on YouTube before going to the Oval Office to discuss his Speak petition rejecting election results.
“It’s our last chance and it could be our last chance forever,” Paxton said in an interview with conservative commentator Steven Crowder. “Because if this is stopped, we may never again have elections we can count on.”
After speaking, the Austin-American Statesman reported that FBI agents had served at least one subpoena in his office 1,500 miles away. The FBI declined to comment.
In a press release, Paxton claimed that the battlefield states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Georgia – where President-elect Joe Biden’s victories influenced elections – “exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to ignore federal and state electoral laws and illegally justifying last-minute changes and thus distorting the results of the 2020 general election. “
Among the allegations: Republicans were prevented from challenging ballots, election officials cheered as observers were thrown out, and equipment was missing, stolen, or left unattended. Trump’s lawsuits in these states had already failed. The Supreme Court ruled Friday that it would not hear any arguments.
Democrats and some Republicans had condemned Paxton’s lawsuit – one he started alone before other GOP-led states and dozens of members of Congress agreed to join him – saying it jeopardized democracy. Republican Chip Roy, who was Paxton’s first lieutenant before stepping down in 2016, has urged him to step down.
Paxton’s move has messed up the often warm relationship between attorneys general, usually serious attorneys who get people’s work done: Republicans and Democrats have teamed up against Big Tobacco, banks, and antitrust investigations at Google. Paxton, the chief prosecutor in one of the largest US states, was among 48 attorneys-general who joined the antitrust lawsuit against Facebook.
However, critics see Paxton as Trump’s “weapon for hire,” said Sean Rankin, executive director of the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Paxton has fought to end the Affordable Care Act that provides health care to low-income families and he went on trial to prevent El Paso County from imposing a lockdown as the coronavirus devoured it. He also fought to stop the expansion of mail-in voting.
“It’s politically expedient,” said Rankin. “The lawsuits he files, the decisions he makes, how he runs this office – it’s not based on being the people’s advocate. . . . They no longer do people’s will. You are doing the will of extreme elements in the Republican Party. “
Paxton, 57, spent much of his childhood in California – his father was in the Air Force – and attended college in Texas and then law school at the University of Virginia. He later returned to Texas north of Dallas and won elections in a deeply conservative, affluent, mostly white area, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate.
In 2014, he won the first of his two terms as attorney general, calling himself “a conservative, staunch leader with a deep passion and respect for our US Constitution”.
“He is known for his principled and uncompromising devotion to the fundamental values of America,” it says on his campaign website.
Months after he took office in 2015, a Paxton County grand jury sued on criminal charges of unregistered investment advisor and securities fraudster. As a member of the Texas House, he had voted for the bill that made such activities a crime. he has pleaded not guilty.
Details became known in a civil case brought against him by the US Securities and Exchange Commission. He reportedly raised $ 840,000 from friends, business associates, customers, and investors for a computer hardware company that claimed to have invented a “revolutionary new server” without telling investors that it was for promoting the stock, according to federal court records was compensated.
Paxton called it “a great company” even though he hadn’t investigated, court records say. On a late night phone call, he persuaded a skeptic to change his mind and bring in $ 150,000.
U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant III in Texas dismissed the case in 2017 because he said Paxton had no legal obligation to provide the information.
“The question before the court is not whether Paxton should have disclosed his compensation agreement, but whether Paxton was required by federal securities law to disclose,” wrote Mazzant, a representative appointed by President Barack Obama.
Paxton has made allegations against him as a witch hunt motivated by moderate factions of the Republican Party of the state. He was supported by ultra-conservative wealthy donors as well as US Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Prosecutors ruled that Paxton did not contest a $ 1,000 fine or reprimand from the Texas State Securities Board in 2014.
“We have claimed that it was knowing and intended. It wasn’t an accident, ”said Special Prosecutor Kent Schaffer.
Paxton’s defense attorney Philip Hilder was blunt: “Paxton is innocent of these allegations.”
The alleged crimes came while Paxton was a state official years before he became attorney general.
Now, as the state’s chief prosecutor, Paxton has put together an excellent team of respected litigators and investigators who have pursued what they see as the excesses of the Washington executive branch. Backed by a powerful political action committee, Empower Texans, Paxton prosecuted election fraud, planned parenting and voting rights.
Trump’s election raised his status even more. Paxton spoke to the President and visited him often, at least once a month.
“I’ve been with him a lot,” Paxton said in mid-February on a Texas podcast called Y’all-itics, a riff on the Texas Drawl. “I am unexpectedly surprised at my approach and how much I have been able to work with him and how often, when I have problems, I have persuaded him to sometimes stand on our side, contrary to some of his own whites, with our advice. “
But in Texas his reputation was struggling. In 2018 he won re-election with just three percentage points.
Then his esteemed legal team signed a letter saying they had reported Paxton to the authorities for possible crimes such as “improper influence, abuse of office and bribery.” They alleged Paxton had abused his office and closed deals on behalf of a political donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who did not respond to questions from the Washington Post. The AP reported that Paul, on Paxton’s recommendation, hired a former Senate assistant with whom Paxton was having an affair.
Several of the letter signers then filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Paxton protested against them, badmouthed them and dismissed most of his critics. The lawsuit alleges that Paul did bad business, bankruptcies, and was investigated by the FBI, and that Paxton tried to help him by disrupting public record requests and a lawsuit.
The lawsuit described Paxton’s alleged behavior as “increasingly reckless, braver and more obvious” and staff were “increasingly concerned about Paxton becoming” less rational in his decision-making “.
Democrats and Paxton’s critics say his entry into the battle for Trump’s election campaign is one of two things: an attempt to seek an apology from the president or back up his conservative credentials in order to stave off an expected re-election challenge from George P. Bush in 2022 .
“The smartest thing Donald Trump can do is get as far away from Ken Paxton as possible, and I say this as a Trump supporter,” said attorney Ty Clevenger, who encouraged the Collin County grand jury years ago, to do so Investigate allegations made by Paxton. He also filed a complaint against Paxton with the bar association. “Paxton is so self-destructive that he will crash and burn. Everyone in Paxton’s orbit will have mud on their faces. “
Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutors appointed on the securities fraud case five years ago, said a presidential pardon would not detract from state criminal charges. “And not even a preventive pardon from the president will change that.”
Paxton has flatly denied his former legal team’s allegations, claiming that they were “rogue” employees.
During a podcast at an Austin pub in February, Paxton said he thought Trump would win the election. His name had been mentioned as a possibility for the US attorney general, but he brushed that aside and said, “You just never know what’s going to happen.”
“Almost every politician I know believes that he will be here forever,” he told Y’all-itics. “And the reality is that most of them leave before they think they’re going to be because of financial problems, or that they will be beaten, or whatever personal problems they are.”
Sacchetti reported from Washington.