By Emma Platoff and Abby Livingston
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who came under fire this weekend with allegations of bribery and abuse of office by seven of his most senior aides, will not resign his post as the state’s top lawyer, he said Monday.
“Despite the effort by rogue employees and their false allegations I will continue to seek justice in Texas and will not be resigning,” Paxton said in a statement.
The statement comes less than two days after top aides with the agency called for a criminal investigation of Paxton, writing “we have a good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses.”
Media reports have tied the allegations to Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and Paxton donor. According to the Houston Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman, former First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer and the other officials felt compelled to act after Paxton allegedly appointed a special prosecutor to target “adversaries” of Paul.
In his limited public statements on the allegations, Paxton has pointed the finger back at the top deputies accusing him of wrongdoing. But Paxton claimed Monday that he was merely investigating a case that had been sent to the agency, as is his responsibility.
“The Texas attorney general’s office was referred a case from Travis county regarding allegations of crimes relating to the FBI, other government agencies and individuals. My obligation as attorney general is to conduct an investigation upon such referral,” Paxton said. “Because employees from my office impeded the investigation and because I knew Nate Paul I ultimately decided to hire an outside independent prosecutor to make his own independent determination.”
Paul is a controversial real estate investor whose net worth Forbes estimated at around $800 million in 2017. His assets include some of Austin’s most prime downtown properties and a smattering of self-storage facilities. But his real estate empire has shown signs of decline, with at least 18 of Paul’s companies declaring bankruptcy in the past year, according to the Austin Business Journal. And in 2019, his home and business office were the targets of an FBI raid, according to local news reports.
Even after top Republicans called the allegations concerning and U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, Paxton’s former chief deputy, called for his resignation, Paxton signaled he will charge ahead through the allegations.
Paxton announced Monday that he would appoint Brent Webster, a former criminal district attorney in Williamson County, as his new first assistant attorney general, replacing Mateer, who resigned Friday and was one of the seven top aides leveling accusations at Paxton.
Without commenting on the circumstances of Mateer’s departure, Paxton praised Webster’s “substantial real-world experience.” Webster has also worked as a civil litigator and criminal defense attorney in private practice, according to a news release from the Texas attorney general’s office.
“I am confident that he will diligently and faithfully serve the office and the people of Texas,” Paxton said in a statement.
Webster ran an unsuccessful campaign in 2016 for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, losing in a Republican primary on a conservative platform despite endorsements from Tea Party groups. Williamson County stood to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars officials should have been able to collect in asset forfeitures after Webster failed to serve the proper citations, the Austin American-Statesman reported in 2017.
“We were short staffed,” Webster told the newspaper at the time, saying he had focused his attention on criminal cases.
Roy called on his former boss to resign from his post Monday, becoming the most high-profile Republican yet to do so.
“For the good of the people of Texas and the extraordinary public servants who serve at the Office of the Attorney General, Attorney General Ken Paxton must resign,” Roy said in a statement. “The allegations of bribery, abuse of office, and other charges levied against him by at least 7 senior leaders of the Office of the Attorney General are more than troubling on the merits.”
“But, any grace for him to resolve differences and demonstrate if the allegations are false was eliminated by his choice instead to attack the very people entrusted, by him, to lead the office — some of whom I know well and whose character are beyond reproach.”
Roy called the office of the attorney general “too critical to the state and her people to leave in chaos.”
“The Attorney General deserves his days in court, but the people of Texas deserve a fully functioning AG’s office,” he added.
Roy served as Paxton’s initial first assistant attorney general during Paxton’s first term but resigned upon Paxton’s request in a major shake-up of senior staff in 2015. He was elected to Congress as a Republican in 2018.
By Monday afternoon, Roy said he would return campaign donations from Paul, the real estate investor tied up in the allegations against Paxton.
“Upon learning of the recent news about Nate Paul and the Attorney General, we combed our financial records & found $2700 from a Nate Paul in the 2018 cycle. I do not recall meeting Mr. Paul and it shows as an online contribution,” Roy tweeted.