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Texas Attorney General Is Accused by Top Aides of Abusing His Office


Seven members of the staff of Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, including some of his top aides, wrote a letter that surfaced over the weekend saying he should be investigated in connection with offenses including improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal acts.

The scenario was extraordinary, particularly because Mr. Paxton has managed to become a consequential figure in Republican legal circles in Texas and nationally despite glaring accusations in his past. In his first year as attorney general, Mr. Paxton was indicted on felony charges related to securities fraud and was booked in a county jail outside Dallas.

Even with the charges hanging over him for years — the case has never gone to trial — he quickly established himself as one of the country’s leading conservative attorneys general. He led a charge to topple the Affordable Care Act, which is now before the Supreme Court, and became a high-level supporter of President Trump, named a national co-chairman of Lawyers for Trump. He was one of the few elected officials in the country to secure his re-election while under indictment.

Now his tenure is threatened by a new cloud of scandal in the letter, which surfaced late Saturday in a report by The Austin American-Statesman and the Austin television station KVUE. “We have a good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law,” the letter said.

The substance of the allegations remains unclear, as Mr. Paxton’s aides have not elaborated in the letter or elsewhere about how they contend he violated the law and abused his office. But the complaint has drawn new scrutiny to the questions of impropriety that Mr. Paxton has so far been able to withstand.

“These allegations raise serious concerns,” Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican and Mr. Paxton’s predecessor as attorney general, said on Sunday. “I will withhold further comment until the results of any investigation are complete.”

In a statement on Sunday, Attorneys General Maura Healey of Massachusetts and Ellen F. Rosenblum of Oregon, the leaders of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, urged Mr. Paxton to resign.

“The most recent news should be the last straw,” the statement said, adding: “All state attorneys general must be above reproach. For too long Paxton has teetered on the edge. He needs to go, and an independent investigation should be launched immediately.”

Mr. Paxton has denied the accusations, issuing a statement arguing that they were meant to distract from malfeasance by others.

“The complaint filed against Attorney General Paxton was done to impede an ongoing investigation into criminal wrongdoing by public officials including employees of this office,” the statement said. “Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law.”

Mr. Paxton, one of the state’s highest-profile elected officials, casts himself as a conservative warrior. He appears often on Fox News and boasts of close ties to the president. Texas is leading the latest major challenge to the Affordable Care Act to reach the Supreme Court. In recent weeks, he has pushed to stop a county clerk from sending out unsolicited ballots, as he raised concerns about election fraud, and has challenged various coronavirus restrictions local governments have imposed.

The complaint is the latest turbulence affecting the Republican Party in Texas, which has a monopoly on statewide offices and controls both houses of the State Legislature but has been rocked by scandal and rived by intramural conflicts, particularly over coronavirus precautions.

The accusations against Mr. Paxton were leveled in the letter that was sent last week to state human resources officials in which the aides said they had “knowledge of facts relevant to these potential offenses” and reported them to the authorities. Federal law enforcement officials have declined to confirm that an investigation is underway.

The letter was signed by seven of the highest-ranking officials in the Attorney General’s Office, including the first assistant attorney general, Jeffrey C. Mateer, who resigned last week to join the First Liberty Institute, a religious freedom advocacy organization, to focus on elevating conservatives onto the federal bench. (Mr. Mateer’s own nomination to become a federal judge was withdrawn in 2017 after news organizations, including The Dallas Morning News, reported he had made disparaging comments about gay people and referred to transgender children as evidence of “Satan’s plan.”)

None of the officials who signed the letter responded to messages seeking comment. The Texas Tribune reported on Sunday that one of the signatories, Ryan L. Bangert, the deputy first assistant attorney general, sent a message across the attorney general’s office encouraging the staff to continue “its important work without interruption.”

It is unclear if the allegations are related to those at the heart of Mr. Paxton’s indictment in 2015, in which he was charged with two counts of first-degree securities fraud and one count of third-degree failure to register with the state securities board.

In the most serious charges, first-degree securities fraud, Mr. Paxton is accused of misleading investors in a technology company, Servergy Inc., which is based in McKinney, his hometown. Prosecutors said he had encouraged the investors, in 2011, to put more than $600,000 into Servergy while failing to tell them he was making a commission on their investments and misrepresenting himself as an investor in the company.

The case has stretched out over more than five years, with change of venue requests and disputes over payments to the special prosecutors handling it. No trial date is set.

Mr. Paxton has been maintained his innocence.

“I want you to hear directly from me,” he said in a video he posted to YouTube in 2016 to rebut the allegations, “unfiltered by liberal reporters, spin doctors and political opponents: These charges are false, and I will prevail against them in court.”

“I never imagined that after being fairly elected by the people of Texas,” he went on, “I would wake up one day to find myself charged with crimes I didn’t commit.”

Manny Fernandez contributed reporting.



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