By James Barragán, The Texas Tribune
“Whistleblowers say Ken Paxton is misleading Texans about his bribery and abuse of office allegations” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
The whistleblowers who sued Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after he fired them for accusing him of bribery and abuse of office are speaking out against him publicly for the first time since filing their lawsuit, in response to what they say are Paxton’s “numerous false and misleading public statements” on the campaign trail.
The four whistleblowers – former deputy attorneys general James Blake Brickman, Mark Penley, and Ryan Vassar, as well as the office’s former director of law enforcement David Maxwell – said they previously intended to stay silent about their case while it played out in the judicial system.
“Our preference was to remain silent while the wheels of justice turned, and our civil case progressed in the courts,” they said in a joint statement Monday. “However, in recent weeks, Paxton has made numerous false and misleading public statements that we feel obligated to correct.”
The whistleblowers also said they had remained quiet to respect the “ongoing FBI investigation,” indicating that a federal criminal probe into Paxton continues. The FBI has declined to comment on the matter in the past.
“The most basic qualifications of an attorney general are respect for truth and respect for the law. Ken Paxton has neither,” the whistleblowers said in their statement. “The day will come when Ken Paxton must testify under oath about his and his agency’s actions. Until then, we call on Ken Paxton to start telling the truth to the people of Texas.”
Paxton, a two-term incumbent, is in a heated four-way primary for reelection and is campaigning throughout the state ahead of Election Day on March 1. The criminal allegations by his former top deputies have weighed down the attorney general this election cycle.
His office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The whistleblowers’ allegations were first made public in late 2020, when eight former top deputies accused Paxton of abusing his office, accepting bribes and tampering with government documents to tip the scales at the attorney general’s office in favor of one of his political donors, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
The whistleblowers told authorities Paxton had tried to intervene in legal matters related to Paul, who had donated money to the attorney general’s campaign, helped him remodel his home and gave a job to a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.
All of the employees who reported Paxton were either fired or left the office under pressure after the complaint. The four who filed the whistleblower complaint contend they were fired for reporting Paxton’s alleged criminal behavior to local and federal authorities and are seeking to be reinstated.
Many of what the whistleblowers call Paxton’s “misleading public statements” came during a Jan. 31 interview with conservative radio host Mark Davis about the attorney general’s race. In the interview, Paxton claimed the whistleblowers “didn’t come to him” and “didn’t explain” the issues they had with the behavior that led to their complaints. In a separate interview with conservative outlet Texas Scorecard this month, Paxton claimed the FBI had “infiltrated” his office to investigate him before the whistleblowers made their complaint.
But the whistleblowers said in their statement they approached Paxton multiple times about their concerns with his push to get involved in Paul’s affairs before reporting him to the FBI. Their whistleblower lawsuit details specific dates when the whistleblowers individually and as a group warned Paxton that his actions in legal matters related to Paul were unlawful.
They said they first reported their concerns to the FBI on Sept. 30, 2020 after they could not convince Paxton to follow the law.
“We had no previous contact with the FBI before that date and believe this was the first time the FBI became involved with the investigation of Paxton and his office,” they wrote in their statement released Monday.
The whistleblowers also took issue with Paxton’s comment on Davis’ show that “no one has ever disputed” an unsigned 374-page report generated by his office in August that exonerated him of the whistleblower’s allegations.
“This is false. Paxton’s self-exonerating report is directly disputed by the detailed allegations in the whistleblower lawsuit,” the statement read. “Unsurprisingly, Paxton’s report selectively ignored some of the most troubling allegations we reported to the FBI, like Paxton providing blatant political favors to a campaign donor – the same campaign donor who has admitted in sworn testimony to hiring a woman at Paxton’s behest, a woman with whom media reports reveal Paxton had an extramarital affair.”
The whistleblowers also blasted Paxton for accusing them of committing crimes in the Davis interview, calling his accusations “ridiculous.”
“We confronted Ken Paxton about his and his agency’s corrupt and criminal conduct, and, when he would not abide by the law, we reported him to the FBI,” they said in their statement. “Paxton is under criminal investigation, not the whistleblowers.”
Paxton also told Texas Scorecard that he still does not know the specific allegations against him. The whistleblowers said the allegations against him are clearly spelled out in their lawsuit and include: bribery, tampering with government records, obstruction of justice, harassment and abuse of office.
Paxton has tried to convince judges in the whistleblower lawsuit to throw out the case, arguing that he is not subject to the whistleblower law as an elected official. A district judge and a three-judge appellate court have rejected that argument and allowed the case to move forward.
Paxton has now appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which will likely delay the case’s progress for several months, well beyond Election Day for the Republican primary.
“Ken Paxton’s cynical, baseless argument has won for him what he most wanted, a
delay in the truth coming out so that he can travel the state misleading Texans,” the whistleblowers said.
But Paxton is still in the toughest fight of his political career in perhaps the most-watched primary race of the cycle. His challengers include Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and congressman Louie Gohmert. Polling has consistently shown Paxton leading the race, but does not show him garnering the simple majority of votes needed to avoid a runoff in May, though Paxton remains confident he can win outright.
Paxton is still facing charges of securities fraud in a separate legal case stemming back to 2015. He has denied wrongdoing.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/02/21/Paxton-whistleblowers-speak-out/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.