AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an exclusive interview with KXAN, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton denied claims made by former top aides that he used his position to help a wealthy political donor and said that none of them were fired because of allegations they raised about his conduct.
An hour before the interview on Friday, the Associated Press and other media outlets reported that four former Paxton aides are suing him for wrongful firing and retaliation after they accused the state’s top law enforcement officer of using his office to help Nate Paul, a wealthy Austin-area developer.
While Paxton said that he had not read the lawsuit at the time of the interview, KXAN politics reporter John Engel asked if any of the previous allegations made by his former aides are true.
“Everything I’ve seen is untrue,” Paxton said.
Four of the whistleblowers have been fired, according to the Texas Tribune. Blake Brickman is one of the whistleblowers.
In response to Paxton’s interview with KXAN, TJ Turner and Tom Nesbitt, attorneys for Brickman, said, “Ken Paxton keeps doubling down on his lies. Fortunately, we do not think anyone believes a word he says. We will let our petition, the plaintiffs’ reputations, and Ken Paxton’s reputation speak for themselves.”
Paxton said that no one was fired because of allegations made against him.
“Some of those people left on their own and some had other issues that we’ll end up getting into letter once this litigation pans out,” Paxton said. “I’m not concerned about how that’s going to go because there are issues that we haven’t been able to talk about that are individual to each person that is part of that complaint.”
Engel asked: “Were they let go because of their statements and because of that letter?”
“No, they were let go… remember, some of them weren’t let go,” Paxton replied. “They decided on their own to leave. Others left because they were terminated and there were issues related to their employment that were legitimate. Facts matter. As time goes on people will see the truth of what we’re saying, that these people, some of them, had legitimate issues unrelated to me that ended up resulting in their termination.”
KXAN obtained an unfiled copy of a whistleblower lawsuit against the attorney general’s office. Four employees are listed as plaintiffs, three have been terminated, and one is currently still employed but was placed on leave.
The lawsuit alleges Paxton retaliated against the four plaintiffs, all high-ranking senior staff in his office, after they reported allegations of criminal conduct by Paxton to the attorney general’s human resources department and Paxton himself. Criminal allegations were also reported to federal authorities.
“Paxton responded to the report immediately and with ferocity, as though he was trying consciously to show Texans exactly what retaliation against whistleblowers looks like. Paxton falsely smeared the whistleblowers publicly in the manner calculated to harm them most, threatened them, tried to intimidate them, and engaged in all manner of retaliation ranging from serious to petty to pathetic,” according to the lawsuit.
The criminal allegations against Paxton center on his intervention in legal matters facing Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer, friend of Paxton and a donor to Paxton’s political campaign.
FBI investigators searched Paul’s home and business properties on August 14, 2019. It is not clear what the FBI was investigating, and Paul has not been accused or charged with a crime.
It remains unclear how Paul and Paxton became friends. The lawsuit says “in 2020, Paxton and Paul met regularly in Austin, Texas, in meetings usually without Paxton’s staff or security detail present, and in meetings that were not included on Paxton’s official schedule.”
The lawsuit outlines a series of situations and legal matters in which Paxton directed the whistleblowers to take actions that could benefit Paul and his companies.
The whistleblowers allege on about July 31, 2020, Paxton directed employees to research restrictions on foreclosure sales. Paxton then made it clear to the employees he wanted an opinion issued that would stop foreclosure sales, the lawsuit states. The employees later learned that opinion, which was issued Aug. 2, was cited the following day by Paul’s attorney to prevent the impending foreclosure sale of his properties, according to the lawsuit.
The whistleblowers also allege Paxton “plotted OAG investigations into Nate Paul’s adversaries,” and his office intervened in a legal case between some of Paul’s companies and an Austin charity.
“Paxton showed a pattern of not listening to the Whistleblowers, including Plaintiffs, when they raised valid objections to his instructions regarding Nate Paul’s legal matters that were brought before the OAG. Plaintiffs, along with the other Whistleblowers, became increasingly concerned over time as the Attorney General became less rational in his decision making and more unwilling to listen to reasonable objections to his instructions, and placed increasing, unusual priority on matters involving Paul.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both expressed concern about allegations facing Paxton, who is still facing a 5-year-old indictment for securities fraud.
Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin-area Republican and former top assistant to then-Attorney General John Cornyn, has called on Paxton to resign. Cornyn told KXAN in October that he is “troubled” by the allegations and expressed concern that Paxton has yet to resolve his securities fraud case.
Paxton said in October that he will not resign.
On Oct. 9, State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, sent Paxton a letter expressing concern with the leadership of the attorney general’s office, asking for a report detailing steps to ensure effective operation and saying Paxton should resign if the allegations against him were true, according to the whistleblower lawsuit. Leach is the chairman of the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee.
Why Ken Paxton won’t resign
Paxton pointed to the work of his office as a reason that Texans should continue to trust him as the state’s top law enforcement official. He pointed to his office’s work in challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which had oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court this week, as well as the ongoing antitrust lawsuit against Google.
“The types of things that we’re doing with Google, the types of things we’re doing with Obamacare, the types of things we’re doing with election fraud, with child support — we just collected $4.8 billion in child support, no state has ever come close to that,” Paxton said. “So, we’re doing some amazing things and I would just say the proof is in the pudding.
“Look at the results of what we’ve accomplished.”