Abbott Would Pick New Top Lawyer for State
if Paxton Headed for Exit Amid Bribery Claims
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
October 3, 2020
Governor Greg Abbott could have the most important appointment of his career on the eventual horizon if Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quit under pressure as a result of bribery and other serious allegations that some of his staff's highest ranking members have lodged against him.
A weekend that's already been a dumpster fire for the GOP took yet another sordid turn on Saturday night amid revelations that seven top lawyers at the state agency that Paxton leads have accused him of criminal wrongding with information they've turned over to federal law enforcement authorities.
Paxton can expect demands for a resignation on both sides of the aisle as a statewide officer who's already under indictment in a lingering state securities fraud case. But the Republican AG suggested that he has no plans to give up his job without a fight when his office implied tonight that the complaint is an attempt to cover-up a criminal probe that he already had under way into unnamed public officials including some on his staff.
"The complaint filed against General Paxton was done to impede on an ongoing investigation into criminal wrongdoing by public officials including employees of this office," Paxton's office asserted. "Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law."
First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer and a half-dozen colleagues who all have the title of deputy attorney general revealed their attempt to initiate an investigation into their own boss in a letter to the human resources office at the agency that Paxton has headed for almost six years.
The Paxton aides said in the letter that's dated October 1 that they've provided incriminating statements to federal officials who they did not identify or about alleged offenses on which they did not articulate. The Austin American-Statesman secured the letter and published it tonight.
“We have a good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses,” the state lawyers contended in the inner-office communique.
Ryan Bangert, the deputy first assistant AG, penned his name to the letter along with handful of deputy attorneys general who lead various divisions within the agency in James Blake Brickman, Lacey Mase, Darren McCarty, Mark Penley and Ryan Vassar. The Paxton staffers who've turned against them teamed up on the letter in a proactive move designed to protect them from being fired for their betrayal.
While Mateer reportedly resigned from the AG's office on Friday, the employment status of the supporting whistle-blowers remained unclear tonight. Each of the Paxton assistants who signed the letter claim to have "knowledge of facts" that are pertinent to the assertions of criminal actions on the top state lawyer's part.
Paxton - a former Texas House and Senate Republican from the suburbs north of Dallas - had cause to be on his best behavior in light of criminal charges that a Collin County grand jury filed against him more than five years ago in connection with an investment scheme. The AG faces three felony counts involving business dealings that included a former Republican lawmaker who'd been a Paxton enemy when they served together in the west wing of the statehouse.
Paxton has argued that the case was politically motivated from the state - and he's managed to have it delayed numerous times since it got under way in 2015. But Paxton might find politics a tougher sell in the new case as a staunch conservative who's appeared to be politically identical to Mateer.
Paxton won a promotion to the statewide post in 2014 after two years as a senator in a district that his wife - GOP State Senator Angela Paxton of McKinney - has represented for the past two years.
A Paxton decision to step down from the powerful public position would prompt Abbott to choose someone to replace him as AG - the job that the governor held for a dozen years before winning the post he has now.
While Abbott would call a special election for a vacancy in the Texas Legislature or Congress, the replacement AG would require Senate confirmation and serve for at least two years until the end of the incumbent's current term. The attorney general position will be on the ballot again in 2022 when most of the statewide offices are up for grabs.
Paxton and Abbott have been allies who've rarely if ever disagreed on major issues and moves. But Abbott has problems of his own after being berated for months by conservatives for the restrictions that he's issued during the COVID-19 crisis.
The lion's share of Abbott detractors on the hard right have been more politically simpactico with Paxton than they have with a governor they'd been content to tolerate until the virus sent state government into emergency mode. Paxton has appeared to steer relatively clear of that ugly fray.