Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick blast state bar investigation into Ken Paxton as “politically motivated”

Ken Paxton at the inaguration ceremony of Judge Michelle Slaughter at the state capitol. Jan. 11, 2019.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

The state's top officials came to the defense of embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton, saying a state bar investigation into his professional conduct is "politically motivated" and raises questions about the state's separation of powers.

On Friday, Paxton said he had filed an objection to a state bar investigation prompted by his decision to file a lawsuit challenging the results of the 2020 presidential elections in four battleground states. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, saying Texas did not have standing to file it.

Paxton called the state bar investigation "partisan" and said it was "weaponizing" its regulatory power against the attorney general's office.

“Texans know exactly what’s going on here,” Paxton said in a statement. “It is no surprise that a cabal of President Biden donors and voters are finding a way to retaliate against the work of my office for the State of Texas’s challenge to the constitutionality of the 2020 elections. Nearly half the nation joined Texas’s cause and two Supreme Court Justices voted to take up the case. I stand by our lawsuit. This is a total misuse of the Bar’s power and responsibility,” he said.

Amy Starnes, a spokesperson for the Texas State Bar, said her office could not discuss or confirm the existence of a pending investigation because of confidentiality rules.

In December, Paxton challenged the election results in the battleground states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, claiming those states had implemented pandemic-related changes to voting procedures that were illegal and cast doubt on the election's results. Those states replied that Texas had no business challenging their election protocols, and the Supreme Court agreed.

State and federal officials, including former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 elections, and Biden won all four of the states where Paxton challenged the results. A controversial review of the vote count in Arizona that was ordered up and financed by Republicans found no evidence of voter fraud this week.

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also blasted the investigation into their fellow Republican. Abbott, a former attorney general, said the issue presented a "threatened intrusion upon executive branch authority."

"These allegations raise separation-of-powers questions under our Constitution," Abbott said in a statement. "I am confident that the Supreme Court of Texas, to which the State Bar of Texas is ultimately accountable, will ensure that the judicial branch upholds the law."

Patrick said the investigation "appears politically motivated."

“It is clear the Investigatory Panel, stacked with Biden and Democrat donors and activists, has weaponized its state-granted power, intended to protect a fair and just practice of law, to instead launch an attack over political differences," he said in a statement. "These actions undermine the integrity of the Investigatory Panel and the State Bar of Texas as a whole."

Paxton accused "higher-ranking bar officials" of ordering an investigation into the complaint after it had been dismissed.

The state bar initially declined to take up a complaint filed by a Democratic Party activist that Paxton's filing of the elections lawsuit was frivolous and unethical. But the Texas Board of Disciplinary Appeals granted an appeal and ordered the bar to investigate the complaint.

That appeal claims that Paxton filed a frivolous lawsuit that he knew had no merit and included knowingly false statements that had been debunked in other lawsuits that had challenged the 2020 presidential election's results.

A group of lawyers who filed a separate complaint said in August the state bar was also investigating their claim.

Disclosure: The State Bar of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

The 2021 Texas Tribune Festival, the weeklong celebration of politics and policy featuring big names and bold ideas, wrapped on Sept. 25, but there’s still time to tune in. Explore dozens of free, on-demand events before midnight Thursday, Sept. 30, at tribfest.org.