DALLAS – A Republican congressman from Texas became the most prominent member of his party to call for the resignation of the state’s Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, after Paxton’s top deputies reported him to law enforcement for alleged crimes including bribery and abuse of office.
Rep. Chip Roy, who was previously Paxton's second in command in the attorney general's office, said in statement Monday that his former boss must step down “for the good of the people of Texas.”
The call for Paxton's resignation came days after seven senior lawyers in his office sent the head of human resources a letter saying they reported the attorney general to “the appropriate law enforcement authority” for potentially breaking the law “in his official capacity."
Paxton said Monday that he would not resign and he cast blame on “rogue employees and their false allegations.” Roy's statement nonetheless signals mounting political, and possibly legal, challenges for an attorney general who has already spent most of his tenure in office maintaining his innocence in the face of a felony indictment.
The letter from Paxton's top deputies did not include specifics of alleged crimes. But the claims appear to stem from a legal tangle involving a federal investigation of one of the attorney general's campaign donors and a counter-investigation by Paxton's office into the donor's allegations of wrongdoing by the federal investigators.
Paxton acknowledged Monday that his employees' complaint arose from him appointing an outside lawyer to lead the investigation of Austin developer Nate Paul's claims that the FBI improperly searched his home and business last year. Paxton said local prosecutors “referred” the case to his office.
Paxton’s deputies reported him to law enforcement last week after becoming concerned about his relationship with Paul and how it might be affecting the investigation, according to documents obtained by Hearst Newspapers and the Austin American-Statesman. Paxton asked a Houston lawyer to act as special prosecutor in the investigation of Paul's claims, the newspapers reported. One of Paxton's deputies reportedly described the appointment as inappropriate and the Houston lawyer's actions as possibly illegal.
Paul gave Paxton $25,000 during his hard-fought 2018 reelection bid, campaign finance records show. Lawyers for the developer and his companies did not respond to Monday requests for comment from The Associated Press. A lawyer for Paul declined to comment to the American-Statesman. “Because employees from my office impeded the investigation and because I knew Nate Paul I ultimately decided to hire an outside independent prosecutor to make his own independent determination," Paxton said in a news release. "Despite the effort by rogue employees and their false allegations I will continue to seek justice in Texas and will not be resigning.”
The FBI declined to comment Monday. There are no public criminal charges against Paul.
Roy, however, sided with the prosecutors accusing Paxton, saying that he knows several of them and their character is "beyond reproach.”
“The allegations of bribery, abuse of office, and other charges levied against him by at least 7 senior leaders of the Office of the Attorney General are more than troubling on the merits,” Roy said in a news release. “But, any grace for (Paxton) to resolve differences and demonstrate if the allegations are false was eliminated by his choice instead to attack the very people entrusted, by him, to lead the office.”
Other top Texas Republicans, including the governor and lieutenant governor, have said the allegations against Paxton are troubling but have not called for him to resign, saying an investigation should proceed.
The remarkable accusation of criminal wrongdoing against Texas' top law enforcement official by his own staff, including some longtime supporters of his conservative Christian politics, could deepen Paxton's legal troubles. He has spent most of his five years in office under indictment for securities fraud. Paxton pleaded not guilty and the case has stalled for years over legal challenges.
One of the special prosecutors in the securities case against Paxton said Sunday evening that they would look into the new allegations against him. Paxton's defense attorney, Philip Hilder, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Paxton has managed to evade accountability for three felony-fraud indictments for six years," said said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, the anti-corruption nonprofit behind the 2014 complaint that led to the attorney general's indictment. "Perhaps now the chickens are coming home to roost.”
Although Paxton's term lasts until 2022, Democrats have seized on his troubles in their effort to retake the Texas House of Representatives in the November election.
“Rooting out corruption is on the ballot,” Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party’s deputy executive director, said in a statement.