Ken Paxton’s former personal assistant and ‘second son’ a star witness in impeachment probe

State Attorney General Ken Paxton, right, talks with staff members before a press conference at the Houston Recovery Center on OCt. 26, 2021. (Mark Felix For The Texas Tribune, Mark Felix For The Texas Tribune)

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Drew Wicker did not like what he was hearing.

The personal assistant to Attorney General Ken Paxton stood in his boss’s kitchen in summer 2020 as Paxton expressed his desire for granite countertops with a contractor who estimated a $20,000 price tag for the upgrade.

“I will check with Nate,” the contractor said after Paxton agreed to the cost, according to Wicker. When Paxton brought up other fixes he wanted for his Austin property, the contractor said he’d have to check with Nate about those, too.

Nate, Wicker understood, was Nate Paul, the Austin real estate investor Paxton had been meeting frequently with that spring and summer to discuss Paul’s various legal problems, including his claim of mistreatment by police after a raid at his home. To Wicker, the conversation sounded as if Paul would be paying for the renovation.

Wicker was so uncomfortable that he raised the issue with Paxton about a week later as they ate burgers at a Plano restaurant. Paxton assured Wicker he was paying for the renovations personally.

Ken Paxton’s former personal assistant Drew Wicker.

Ken Paxton’s former personal assistant Drew Wicker. Credit: Social media

Three years later, those granite countertops have emerged as a key piece of evidence in the impeachment case against Paxton, who is accused of misusing the attorney general’s office to help his friend Paul fend off a federal investigation into his flailing real estate empire. And Wicker — Paxton’s aide who grew into a family friend — has become one of the key witnesses in the case against his former boss. Among the 20 articles of impeachment laid out by the Texas House is an allegation that Paul paid for not just countertops but an extensive renovation of Paxton’s Tarrytown property in exchange for the attorney general’s help with his legal issues.

As one of the aides who spent the most time at the attorney general’s side, Wicker proved an invaluable source as a House committee investigated Paxton in secret this spring before recommending he be impeached.

“I’m going to give you the best recollection, and then I’m going to trust that the evidence points where it shall,” Wicker told his interviewers. “And if that ends up being that (Paxton) conducted illegal business, then I love the man all the same and I hope that that gets adjusted, but he also needs to be held to account.”

The transcript of Wicker’s May 19 interview, released Thursday night along with nearly 4,000 pages of evidence compiled by the House, provided investigators with details on multiple abuses they would allege Paxton committed in office.

Wicker described to investigators a close relationship with Paxton and said that his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, once joked that he was the couple’s “second son.” Wicker resigned shortly after Paxton’s top deputies accused him of corruption in September 2020, turning down a promotion to a policy role the attorney general had offered. He described the last three years as a “nightmare,” adding that he had also been subpoenaed by the FBI.

Wicker joined the office in September 2019, a month after finishing graduate school at Georgetown University, where he studied political economy. Recommended by a senior official in the office whom he knew, Wicker met with Paxton and was hired on the spot.

The role of the attorney general’s body man was demanding, usually stretching well past the 9-to-5 workday. Wicker often drove Paxton around, managed his schedule and couriered documents that needed the attorney general’s review or signature. He also got to travel with Paxton, including a trip to China just a few months into the job.

He added that sometimes he did personal errands for Paxton that were outside of his job description, like moving clothes from the Tarrytown house while it was being renovated.

“My view on my job and my role was that if I could make his life a little bit easier … that allowed him to better focus on issues pertaining to the state,” Wicker said.

Wicker said he met Paul in spring of 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and estimated he saw the real estate developer a dozen times over the following months. Sometimes, he and Paxton had lunch with Paul; on other occasions, they visited Paul at his downtown Austin office a few blocks south of the attorney general’s office.

He said there was a “good amount of discussion” about an FBI raid on Paul’s home and business in August 2019 and that Paxton felt the episode was a “miscarriage of justice.” The House investigators say Paul, meanwhile, wanted the attorney general’s help in obtaining the private search warrant documents the bureau had filed with the court. Paul was federally indicted in June on eight counts of making false statements to financial institutions.

The young aide also recalled an instance that summer in which he delivered a manila folder to Paul at Paxton’s request. Investigators believe that folder contained the confidential FBI files about the criminal probe into Paul, which Paxton leaked to the developer.

Wicker was frustrated with how much energy Paxton was focusing on his relationship with Paul. House investigators said they discovered at least 20 meetings between the pair that spring and summer, despite the burgeoning pandemic.

“We had a number of issues that were top of mind … in terms of policy and initiatives,” Wicker said. “And we were spending an increasingly large share of our calendar time focused on Nate Paul.”

Wicker, by chance, also discovered evidence that Paxton had resumed an extramarital affair with a Senate staffer that his top deputies thought was over.

The relationship between Paxton and the woman is central to the impeachment case. House investigators allege that Paul hired her in June 2020 as a favor to Paxton, allowing her to move from San Antonio to Austin.

At a meeting with senior staff in September 2018, with his wife by his side, Paxton disclosed that he had a relationship with the woman, but that it was over and he had recommitted to his marriage, the Associated Press previously reported.

But Wicker, visiting the Omni Barton Creek hotel with his family in summer 2020, ran into Paxton getting off the elevator with a woman who was not his wife.

“No words were said,” Wicker recalled. “Paxton walked out, shook my hand, shook my father’s hand and the lady walked out, didn’t acknowledge us or say anything.”

Wicker said he reported what he saw to Marc Rylander, the Paxton senior adviser who had told him about the affair when he started the job. Wicker described what the woman looked like.

“Great,” Rylander replied. “She’s back.”

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