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New accusations: Paxton used burner phone, secret email, fake Uber name to hide ties to Nate Paul

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Texas State Republican Convention in 2018. He's wearing a blue suit and standing in front of the U.S. flag.
Julia Reihs
The allegations shed new light on the relationship between Paul and Paxton that is at the core of his impeachment proceedings.

In new allegations revealed Wednesday, Texas House investigators accused suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton of engaging in a complex cover-up to hide his relationship with real estate investor Nate Paul as senior aides grew increasingly concerned about Paxton’s willingness to use his office to benefit Paul.

The subterfuge allegedly included Paxton and Paul creating an Uber account under an alias so they could meet each other and so the attorney general could visit the woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

And once Paxton learned several high-ranking officials in his office reported his behavior to the FBI, the House impeachment managers alleged, he took immediate steps to cover up his relationship with Paul, including wiring a $122,000 payment to a Paul-affiliated company in an effort to hide home renovations that Paul had provided for free.

The allegations, outlined in a series of filings with the Texas Senate’s court of impeachment, shed new light on the relationship between Paul and Paxton that is at the core of his impeachment proceedings.

Among the new claims: Top deputies in the attorney general’s office persistently warned Paxton that Paul was a “crook” and that there was no merit to his claims that he had been unfairly treated by law enforcement, and that the two met at least 20 times in spring and summer 2020, sometimes discussing the FBI investigation into Paul’s faltering real estate empire.

Paxton “blindly accepted Paul’s conspiracy,” impeachment managers alleged. “Senior Staff urged Paxton to stay away. But when it came to Paul, Paxton was immune to reason.”

Paul was arrested in June on federal felony charges of lying to financial institutions to secure business loans.

Responding to Paxton’s pretrial motions that seek to dismiss all 20 articles of impeachment, including four that will not be included in the Sept. 5 impeachment trial, House managers also detailed multiple actions in which Paxton allegedly sought to use his office to benefit Paul.

They alleged that Paxton conducted a “sham criminal investigation” into Paul’s “adversaries,” routinely overriding concerns from agency staff who told him that Paul was a “criminal” and that Paxton needed to “get away.”

Instead, House managers alleged, Paxton became increasingly “entangled in Paul’s web of deceit” and “went to great lengths” to hide his relationship with Paul — using a burner phone and secret email accounts, ditching his security detail and using the fake Uber name to be “ferried to his lover’s or Paul’s properties more than a dozen times.”

In response to Paul’s favors — including allegedly employing the woman and paying to remodel Paxton’s home — Paxton “continually abused the power of his office to advance Paul’s aims,” House managers alleged.

In one instance, Paxton allegedly told agency staff that he did not want the office to assist law enforcement “in any way” with an investigation into Paul, who Paxton claimed was being “railroaded” and needed “unprecedented” access to sensitive information about his case.

After meeting with “alarmed” senior staff, Paxton allegedly demanded files about Paul’s criminal case that included an unredacted FBI letter that identified individuals involved in a 2019 raid on Paul’s home and businesses.

“Paxton held onto the file for more than a week,” House managers wrote. “Ultimately, OAG did not disclose the information to Paul. But Paxton did.”

In another instance, Paxton was accused of issuing a legal opinion that staved off a pending foreclosure sale of Paul’s businesses at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. House investigators cited two agency employees who said they were forced to work through the night to produce the opinion while Paxton frequently called them.

Paxton “sounded like someone was holding him hostage,” one of the staffers told investigators.

The opinion, which Paxton allegedly edited himself, was published at 1 a.m. Aug. 2, 2020, and said foreclosure proceedings posed a public health threat — despite the state’s “open for business” mantra throughout the pandemic, managers said.

The next day, managers alleged, Paul cited the opinion to successfully delay the foreclosures.

“It is hard to imagine a more blatant abuse of Paxton’s office,” House managers wrote.

Paxton’s legal team had filed more than a dozen motions to dismiss all articles of impeachment, often arguing that the underlying allegations were baseless or fell under the legitimate duties of the attorney general’s office.

His attorneys also accused the Texas House of trying to “overturn the will of voters” who reelected Paxton to a third term last year despite various public scandals dating to 2015. One argument stressed that Paxton cannot be impeached for alleged misconduct that predated his most recent election under the so-called “prior-term doctrine.” And they downplayed some of the allegations he faces, saying that, even if true, they are not severe enough to warrant his removal from office.

Paxton’s lawyers also attacked two bribery-related impeachment articles, saying there was no evidence of a “quid pro quo” and that Paxton’s ties to Paul were nothing more than “a personal relationship with a constituent and that the constituent found something the Attorney General did to be agreeable in some way.”

Under rules adopted by the Senate, any pretrial motion to dismiss or quash an article of impeachment must be voted on by senators. A majority — 16 senators — can approve dismissal of an article, placing an early test on the determination of the chamber’s 19 Republicans to allow a trial on the allegations. Those votes are set to be taken shortly after the trial begins in September.

In a written response, filed with the Senate on Tuesday and made public Wednesday, the impeachment team challenged other pretrial assertions from Paxton’s lawyers, who claimed the articles of impeachment were deficient because they failed to list specific laws that Paxton allegedly broke.

“Impeachable offenses need not be indictable crimes,” the House team argued. “Impeachment in Texas seeks to protect against conduct that undermines the integrity of the office, disregards constitutional duties and oaths of office, abuses government process and power, and adversely impacts the system of government.”

What’s more, the team argued, many of the articles listed particular crimes, and several detailed “how Paxton abused his office for his own personal benefit or that of Nate Paul and business entities controlled by Paul.”

More broadly, the managers emphasized that the impeachment trial is not a criminal or civil proceeding, as Paxton’s side has implied. In one new filing, the managers wrote that an impeachment trial is “a unique, if not mostly Political, with a capital ‘P’, proceeding — i.e., an action by the representatives of the people challenging official actions that are contrary to the public interest.”

That view aligns with the view that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate and is acting as judge in the impeachment trial, offered in a TV interview Tuesday.

“It’s not a criminal trial. It’s not a civil trial. It’s a political trial,” Patrick told the Fox affiliate in Houston.

The House managers also asked the Senate to dismiss Paxton’s motion to quash the articles or return them to the House to add more detail to the allegations. The managers said the demand shows a “fundamental misunderstanding” of how impeachment works, arguing that the Texas Constitution does not require the level of detail common in a civil or criminal proceeding.

“A person can be impeached without an indictment, therefore Paxton does not have any right to demand more details,” the managers said.

From the Texas Tribune

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