On Thursday, The Texas Tribune reported it had obtained a court filing revealing what four former Paxton aides believe was at the center of an illegal quid pro quo.
According to the aides, Paxton helped Austin real estate developer Nate Paul’s business affairs. In exchange, Paul helped remodel the attorney general’s $1 million home and gave a job to Paxton’s mistress.
The allegations didn’t come as a shock to some.
“Nooooo! Not the notoriously ethical Ken Paxton!!!” MSNBC host Chris Hayes said in a tweet.
Scandal has enshrouded Paxton his entire time as Texas’ top law enforcement official. In 2015, he already had felony securities fraud charges hanging over his head. Last year, The Associated Press reported he’d become the subject of an FBI investigation, but so far, he’s avoided facing legal repercussions.
Nooooo! Not the notoriously ethical Ken Paxton!!! https://t.co/prHkpP7pr6— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 12, 2021
In late 2020, Paxton fired several senior aides after they accused him of accepting a bribe, according to The Texas Tribune. They slammed his actions as a “bizarre, obsessive use of power.”
The aides said the attorney general had investigated Paul's rivals and assisted him in settling a lawsuit, according to that article. In 2018, the real estate developer had also donated $25,000 to Paxton’s reelection campaign.
Paul’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
Paxton, meanwhile, has long claimed innocence. In October, he slammed his former aides as “rogue employees” and denied their bribery allegations. He also resisted calls for his resignation.
Ian Prior, Paxton’s political spokesman, said in an emailed statement the attorney general didn’t act improperly.
"Any accusations that the attorney general acted contrary to the law are completely false and they will be proven false in court,” Prior said.
It’s unlikely that the attorney general will resign, but he should, said Zack Malitz, treasurer of the anti-Paxton Boot Texas Republicans Political Action Committee.
“It gets more and more absurd the further it gets." – Zack Malitz, treasurer of Boot Texas Republicans PAC
Out of all the “egregious” things Paxton has done in office, the worst may have been his effort to overturn the results of the presidential election, Malitz said. In December, Paxton sued four states where President Joe Biden won, an unsuccessful effort that would have effectively disenfranchised millions of voters.
“There’s a long list of reasons why [Paxton] should go,” Malitz said, “and somehow, corruption is kind of middle of the pack.”
Paxton has also spread conspiracy theories regarding the Jan. 6 insurrection, claiming on Twitter that supporters of former President Donald Trump were not to blame for the U.S. Capitol invasion. Rather, he insinuated that the left-wing group antifa was to blame.
Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie has called for an investigation into Paxton following Jan. 6. That morning, Paxton delivered a speech at Trump's “Stop the Steal” rally; hours later, a right-wing mob stormed the Capitol.
These are not Trump supporters. pic.twitter.com/ptcNp2lzrG— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) January 6, 2021
Malitz said attorney generals have to be “squeaky clean” to be credible. Paxton isn’t.
There’s not much evidence Paxton takes his job seriously, Malitz added. Instead, he’s used his platform for media grandstanding, attacking political opponents and waging a culture war. (The conservative has long framed himself as a crusader for Christian causes.)
Last week, Paxton’s office threatened to take action against the city of Austin for buying a hotel to house the homeless, Malitz said.
“Maybe he thinks people experiencing homelessness should do some public corruption to get houses bought and remodeled; I’m not sure,” he said. “The routine hypocrisy of him claiming to be a law enforcement official while facing these charges is just extraordinary.”
Paxton may be losing favor among some within his party.
Last week, the Austin American-Statesman reported Republican members of the state's Senate Finance Committee questioned Paxton on giving raises, a legal settlement he’d endorsed and his decision to hire expensive outside lawyers to sue Google. The moves come as the state grapples with budget restraints.
Following The Tribune's article, the Texas Democratic Party was quick to skewer the attorney general, with Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa calling him an “embarrassment to Texas.”
The attorney general consistently puts his personal life ahead of public service, state Democratic party spokesman Abhi Rahman said. The Legislature should impeach him, he added.
“He’s abused power for a mistress, you know?” Rahman told the Observer. “This is everything people hate about politics, and Ken Paxton should be held accountable for it.” (The claims about a mistress have not been proven in court.)
“It gets more and more absurd the further it gets,” he said.