AUSTIN – Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton faced tough questions from the state’s senators, defending his office’s failed efforts to reverse the results of presidential elections in key battlefield states and the decision to spend millions of dollars on a lawsuit against Google .
Wednesday’s Senate financial hearing marked the first time Paxton had to publicly respond to lawmakers in recent months about his controversial, high-profile actions.
The Republican has leveled national criticism for questioning election results in four other states and attending the pro-Trump rally in Washington DC before a mob attacked the Capitol. The state’s chief attorney is also facing retaliation charges by several former executives after they accused Paxton of misusing the office to aid a friend and campaign donor. The FBI is investigating the allegations that Paxton has denied, according to The Associated Press.
Senators from both parties were unusually critical of the state’s chief attorney.
Several questioned his office’s claim for $ 43 million to cover outside legal services in support of antitrust litigation against Google. Around $ 20 million will be needed to pay subject matter experts, agency officials said on Wednesday.
Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, asked why the office needs to hire outside attorneys when lawmakers have funded pay increases in the past to help the agency retain the best legal talent.
“I remain very concerned about some of the outside attorneys being hired,” she said during the committee hearing in Austin.
Several Republican senators have voiced concern over a deal with opioid manufacturers who they said could cut legislation out of decisions about how the money was used.
At one point, Finance Committee chairman Jane Nelson told Paxton that she was “very, very unhappy”. The agency gave tens of millions of dollars to raise salaries without legal authorization at a time when money was tight.
“We have an appropriation process for a reason and if every agency did what yours did, General Paxton, we wouldn’t have a budget,” said Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “We wouldn’t even need a budget.”
Paxton said he wished the agency had “done it differently”.
Otherwise, the Attorney General has largely asserted himself in the second term. He defended the agency’s decision to win two outside firms to lead antitrust proceedings against Google, a technology company he described as a “major force”.
“Google has almost unlimited resources. There was never anyone in my office who could do it alone, ”he said. “We wanted to be able to compete on the same playing field.”
While lawmakers asked Paxton about his agency’s business, no one asked directly about the criminal allegations his top employees made against him last fall. Seven of the agency’s top employees accused Paxton of using the office to benefit campaign donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer. They have all since left after being fired or resigned, and several are now suing the agency.
Paxton denied the allegations, saying officials thwarted his agency’s ability to investigate Paul’s allegations that Paul took action against federal agents who raided his home in 2019.
Senator Royce West grilled Paxton over his unsuccessful offer to overturn election results in four states, which helped Democrat Joe Biden win the presidency.
West, D-Dallas urged agency officials how much the state was spending on prosecuting the lawsuit, although the total cost is still unknown. Two outside attorneys who worked on the case handled it for free, and the cost of printing was $ 12,000, said first assistant attorney general Brent Webster.
Paxton, Webster, and several other attorneys worked on preparing and filing the case, Webster said. The cost of their time is unknown. Your working hours were not recorded, he said.
“This is a leadership-led initiative,” he said.
The New York Times reported that the election complaint was drafted by attorneys near President Donald Trump and then filed by Paxton’s office. That didn’t show up on Wednesday.