The True Story Behind Ken Paxton's Historic Texas Impeachment
Suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, impeached by the Texas House yesterday and currently awaiting trial in the Senate, has been awaiting trial on another charge for felony securities fraud since 2015. Paxton, who was elected as Attorney General in 2014, was charged the following year with conning people into investing in a technology company called Severgy without telling them that he had an interest in the company and would profit from their investments.
The charges allege that while Paxton was serving in the Texas House of Representatives in 2011, he sold $840,000 worth of stock in the company to a Florida businessman and a fellow state representative with whom he roomed while the two men served in the House in Austin. In return, Paxton received 100,000 shares in the technology company. It wasn’t a small amount of money, and the complainants in the case were upstanding members of their communities.
So, it wasn’t a case like the hundreds that would doubtlessly churn through the justice system over the eight years Paxton has been able to keep his felony charges bouncing around from court to court, county to county. You know the kind of cases I’m talking about – kids charged with stealing beer from a 7-11, or adults charged with holding up a 7-11 with a firearm; or the thousands of multiple-offender felony DWI’s that would send the perpetrators to jail during the time Paxton was under indictment.
Of course, none of those charged in 7-11 robberies or with felony DWI’s who ended up in jail were former members of the Texas legislature or the state Attorney General like Paxton was. Which is the point. There were two systems of justice in operation in Texas between 2015 and 2023: one for the ordinary citizens of the state and one for Ken Paxton, and I’ll give you one guess which justice system produced trials and convictions and jail time.
The Texas Tribune has done an excellent job over the years explaining how the Ken Paxton system of justice worked. In a 2019 story, the Tribune spent more than 15 paragraphs describing the steps the Paxton felony case went through during just the first four years of the delays Paxton and his lawyers engineered to keep the Attorney General out of court as a defendant, and Paxton himself in office.
According to the Tribune, in August of 2015, Paxton was indicted by a grand jury in Collin County. Because the case involves the state Attorney General, special prosecutors are assigned to handle the charges.
In December of that year, a Paxton friend and campaign donor sued Collin County alleging that the special prosecutors were being overpaid. That case began to make its way through the courts.
In the early months of 2016, Paxton was barred by the Texas Ethics Commission – yes, they have one of those in the Lone Star State – from raising money out of state and from using campaign funds for his defense.
Also in 2016, the Securities and Exchange Commission got involved, filing civil charges against Paxton in federal court charging him with misleading investors. Paxton immediately tried to get those charges dismissed, but by mid-summer, he lost the case in an appeals court.
Paxton also filed a motion to get the felony charges dismissed. He was unsuccessful. But he was successful in raising money for his defense, more than $300,000 from political donors and “family friends,” according to financial statements seen by the Tribune.
After SEC federal civil charges were dismissed in early 2017, somehow the Collin County Commissioners voted to stop paying the special prosecutors in the Paxton case. Withholding money from the prosecution became a refrain. Later that year, a Dallas appeals court upheld not paying the special prosecutors. By the fall of 2017, not one, not two, but three delays were granted in the Paxton case, the latest one because the special prosecutors told a judge they couldn’t go to court and work for free.
The state court case filed by the special prosecutors to get paid went to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, effectively speaking, the state’s supreme court, and the Paxton trial was put off until that court could decide the special prosecutor’s case on payments.
By then it was 2018, and with all the felony charges still standing, Paxton won reelection, because Texas.
Meanwhile, the state’s highest court had ruled against the special prosecutors, who had now not been paid for more than a year. The prosecutors asked the high court to reconsider. The court took nearly a year to make up their minds to deny the prosecutor’s motion.
In 2019 Paxton filed a motion in Dallas to have the case moved back to his home county, Collin, where the county commissioners first refused to pay the special prosecutors the county had appointed to oversee the Paxton prosecution. The special prosecutors had now gone two years without being paid.
By 2020, in a complicated bouncing-around of judges and counties, the Paxton case was first sent back to Collin County, then a Houston judge sent it back to Harris County, but the case got put on hold because the judge, a guy named Robert Johnson, had to recuse himself because Paxton’s own office of the Attorney General was representing him and twenty other Harris County judges in a case against the county’s bail policies.
Later in 2020, seven employees in the office of the Attorney General reported Paxton to the FBI for conspiring with his pal, Nate Paul, to use state funds and other materials to assist Paul in real estate deals. They became whistleblowers and were fired by Paxton, setting the stage for the charges that got Paxton impeached.
But…but…but…it was only 2020! It couldn’t be over yet! In 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Attorney in West Texas where Paxton was charged and where the whistleblower charges were being investigated is an appointee of Donald Trump and William Barr, the former puppet-Attorney General. The Biden U.S. Attorney wasn’t confirmed until December of 2022, and then…wait for it…NBC News reported that the West Texas U.S. Attorney’s office recused itself, and the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. took over the case.
So the case went from Paxton’s home county, to Houston, to Dallas, back to Paxton’s home county, to the feds in West Texas to the Justice Department in Washington D.C.
Did it end there? It’s Texas, right? Of course not. The very next month, Paxton attempted to “settle” with the whistleblowers from his own office, offering them $3 million to drop their case. Then Paxton tried to get the state of Texas to pick up the bill for the entire mess he had created. He wanted the Texas taxpayers to pay off the people accusing him of running a corrupt office with a hostile environment.
Suddenly, the Texas House committee on investigations convened itself and announced this past week that it had heard “stunning testimony” about “a years long pattern of misconduct” by Paxton and voted to recommend that Paxton be impeached.
On Saturday, the Texas House took up the recommendation and voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton.
And so eight years and many judges and several unpaid special prosecutors later, Paxton will stand in the dock of the Texas Senate and face trial for impeachment on no less than 20 charges, many of which he had been moving around the state like chips on a checkerboard, jumping over one legal hurdle after another until even his own party, the Texas Republican Party, got tired of getting beat.
Last week, Paxton is said to have personally called members of the Texas House and threatened them with political retribution if they voted against him, and his friend Donald Trump joined him, calling those who are attempting to oust his favorite state Attorney General “liberals.”
Paxton’s own wife Angela is a state Senator and will sit in judgement at the trial of her husband. Paxton may be having second thoughts about the day he convinced his pal Nate Paul to give his mistress a job while Paul did the renovations on the house Paxton and his state Senator wife lived in.
Or maybe not. It’s Texas, folks, where anything goes unless you hold up a 7-11. In that case, you will go to court where the prosecutors will be paid to prosecute you, and you will go to jail.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
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