Embattled Texas AG drops case that set off staff revolt

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday dropped an investigation sought by a wealthy donor that set off an extraordinary revolt by the Republican’s top deputies, who accused him of bribery and abuse of office, and fueled new calls for his resignation.

The announcement came hours after prosecutors in Austin expressed unease over why Paxton launched an investigation sought by Nate Paul, an Austin developer and Paxton donor whose offices were raided by the FBI. State authorities also confirmed Friday that they had referred criminal allegations made by Paxton’s own staff against their boss to federal authorities.

“The newly surfaced information raises serious concerns about the integrity of your investigation and the propriety of your conducting it,” said Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, who instructed her office to sever contact with Paxton over the case.

Paul gave Paxton $25,000 in campaign contributions in 2018. Federal authorities have not disclosed why they searched Paul’s offices last year, but Paul later sought his own investigation, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated.

Paxton, who this week vowed he will not resign, said in a statement he was dropping Paul’s complaint since local prosecutors are now no longer involved. But Moore has disputed Paxton’s claims of how the case began, saying it was him who first approached her about Paul this summer.

“Criminal investigations are crucial to seek justice for families across the state, but it is a small part of the wide-ranging issues this office handles. We proudly stand by the good, hard work our office continues to conduct every day for all Texans,” Paxton said.

Paul’s attorney, Michael Wynne, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

The end of the investigation is unlikely to ease pressure on Paxton, who has spent nearly his entire five years in office under indictment over separate allegations of securities fraud. He has denied wrongdoing over the Paul complaint, and cast blame on “rogue employees and their false allegations.”

Republican Rep. Chip Roy, who used to work for Paxton, called for his resignation this week. On Friday, another Republican lawmaker who chairs a committee with oversight of Paxton’s office also expressed concerns.

“If there is any truth whatsoever to the factual and legal claims of your own senior staff, I believe you must voluntarily resign your position and urge you to do so,” Republican state Rep. Jeff Leach wrote in a letter.

Moore, a Democrat, distanced herself from the probe a week after Paxton’s top deputies accused him of bribery and abuse of office after he hired an outside lawyer to look into Paul’s allegations. Paxton has said Travis County prosecutors referred the case to his office, but Moore wrote Friday that “should not be used as any indication of a need for investigation.”

The outside lawyer Paxton hired was Brandon Cammack, who graduated from law school in 2015 and runs a modest criminal defense practice. He has no prosecutorial experience but d oes have ties to one of Paul’s defense attorneys. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment this week.

Keith Byers, an attorney and retired FBI agent who oversaw public corruption cases in Texas, suggested the attorney general’s investigation was “a cheap diversionary tactic and nothing more than political theatre.”

Byers said the FBI is often wary of the motives of people who report crimes to them then promptly make the allegations public.

“I understand, however, a situation sometimes can become so unbearable that desperate people decide to jump kicking and screaming off the sinking Titanic in hopes someone will send help,” he said.

Paxton has said he brought in an outside lawyer because he knew Paul, and because the attorney general’s employees were trying to block the investigation. The full nature of Paul and Paxton’s relationship is unclear.

It’s also unclear what Paul has alleged against federal law enforcement, but his claims came to light a year after the FBI searched his home and office. The FBI has declined to comment and Paul’s lawyer has not answered questions about his claims.

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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