No evidence to support impeachment, Ken Paxton's team says

ByZach Despart, The Texas Tribune
Friday, August 18, 2023
Ken Paxton due in Houston criminal court for securities fraud case
House managers in charge of Ken Paxton's impeachment have revealed over 4,000 pages of evidence detailing his alleged wrongdoings prior to the Texas trial.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas House impeachment managers have submitted nearly 4,000 pages of exhibits providing new and exhaustive details of their allegations of abuse of office by suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton ahead of his impeachment trial next month.

The video above is from a previous report.

The Senate, which is conducting the trial slated to begin Sept. 5, published the exhibits Thursday night on a website the chamber maintains for impeachment-related documents. The document dump provides granular detail of how Paxton allegedly misused his office to help his friend Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and campaign donor, who was being investigated by federal authorities as his businesses were floundering.

Paxton's lawyers last week called for all 20 articles of impeachment to be dismissed, relying in part on an argument that the House had not produced evidence to support the allegations against the attorney general. Through the document dump, a remarkable public disclosure before the trial has started, the House managers have essentially called their bluff.

The managers' responses to Paxton's pretrial motions offer new allegations against Paxton, including that he used a burner phone, secret email account and fake Uber name to hide his relationship with Paul.

There are 150 exhibits across three documents totaling 3,760 pages. They include:

  • An interview with Paxton's former personal aide who said he ferried documents to Paul on Paxton's behalf and witnessed conversations about the renovations to Paxton's home that suggested Paul had paid for it.
  • Emails showing how Paul and his lawyer directed a special prosecutor authorized by Paxton to investigate Paul's business rivals and law enforcement officials that had raided his home.

  • Memoranda documenting numerous instances in which Paxton's senior advisers unsuccessfully urged him to cut ties with Paul, who they suspected was a liar and criminal.
  • Trip records obtained from Uber showing an account Paul created under the alias "Dave P," which Paxton used to travel to the home of Paul and the apartment of the woman with whom the attorney general was allegedly having an extramarital affair. Paxton is married to state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.
  • An employment contract proving Paul had hired Paxton's alleged girlfriend to work at his business.

  • Interviews with former Travis County prosecutors who said Paxton asked them to investigate Paul's claims or refer them to his office, despite their advice that he let Paul's criminal case conclude before getting involved.

An attorney for Paxton did not immediately respond to request for comment. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding judge in the trial, issued a sweeping gag order July 17, banning all involved parties from making comments that could prejudice the trial or impair the impeachment court's ability to be "fair and impartial."

The latest exhibits also add evidence to the allegation that Paxton recruited a state senator, Bryan Hughes, to request a legal opinion that helped avoid foreclosure on properties owned by Paul and his businesses. Hughes' involvement was initially mentioned in the House's articles of impeachment.

The new evidence shows that on Sept. 30, 2020, Paxton's former deputy first assistant attorney general, Ryan Bangert, emailed another aide, Ryan Vassar, a timeline of events leading up to the opinion.

"(Paxton) agreed that we could reach out to Senator Bryan Hughes, which we did, and ask that he make a request, which he did," Bangert wrote. "We then prepared the response and sent it to Senator Hughes." Bangert and Vassar are among the seven former attorney general staffers who reported Paxton to law enforcement in 2020 for alleged abuses of office.

Hughes did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Uber rides

The exhibits provide support for one of the new allegations that managers made in their response to Paxton's pretrial motions - that Paul created a secret Uber account for Paxton under the alias "Dave P" to help shield his extramarital affair.

The managers said Uber records show the account was "jointly accessed" by Paul and Paxton and that Paxton used it to go to the Pearl Lantana Apartments in Austin, "where his mistress resided."

One exhibit details over three dozen "relevant" trips for which the account was used. The trips spanned four cities - Austin, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Chicago - and happened from October 2019 to October 2020.

The Austin trips included 16 that involved the Pearl Lantana Apartments. Those drives often originated or ended at a location identified as a "single-family residence close to Paxton residence." That lines up with another claim that managers made in their recent responses - that Paxton would use the account to get picked up a "block from his home," apparently to evade attention.

Paxton's affair has become central to the impeachment trial, as House impeachment managers have said Paul gave Paxton's alleged girlfriend a job at his business as a favor. Among the vast trove of documents was an employment contract confirming that Paul hired the woman at his firm, World Class Property Company.

Paul hired the woman to be the company's director of special projects - at an annual salary of $65,000 - who reported directly to him and was based at the company's downtown Austin office, according to the June 23, 2020, contract. Paul had admitted in a 2020 deposition he hired her on Paxton's recommendation.

Travis County District Attorney

As part of his defense for involving his office in Paul's criminal woes, Paxton and his supporters have argued that the Travis County district attorney's office was the first to open an investigation into Paul's claims of law enforcement abuse and that the local prosecutors had asked for the attorney general's office to get involved.

New interview transcripts with the former Travis County prosecutors allege Paxton had asked the district attorney's office to refer Paul's case to him after they found the claims to be dubious.

Mindy Montford, a former assistant district attorney in Travis County who now works in the attorney general's office, said in a June interview with attorneys for House investigators that in May 2020, Paxton asked her to meet him, Paul and Paul's attorney for lunch to discuss Paul's complaint alleging law enforcement misconduct during a search of Paul's home. Montford said she and her colleague didn't believe Paul's story, and seeing that Paul already had an attorney and was under criminal investigation, her office decided not to push any further.

But she said she and her colleagues didn't want to dismiss the case outright and risk harming a good working relationship with Paxton, who had supported their office in attempts to regain funding for a public integrity unit. Still, Montford said she advised Paxton to wait before jumping in.

"I don't know if I told him that I didn't believe Nate Paul, but I think what I said was, 'Look, there is a pending federal investigation. Why not just let that run its course?'" she said. Paxton responded, "I don't know that I can do that," she said, and asked her office to send him a referral.

The records are dated Tuesday, meaning the managers filed them on the day that responses to pretrial motions were due to the Senate. Now a special committee of senators is reviewing the motions and responses. That committee has until Aug. 28 to prepare a confidential report with recommendations on the motions for Patrick, who can rule on all motions except for those that seek dismissal of any articles, which requires a majority vote of the Senate. Patrick also can ask senators to decide other pretrial motions, with approval granted by a majority vote.

The breadth of the evidence could put more pressure on senators to at least proceed to trial. Assuming all 12 Democrats oppose Paxton's motions to dismiss, managers would have to convince at least four of the 19 Republican senators to side with the Democrats and clear the way for a trial. One of those GOP senators is Paxton's wife, and she does not get to vote under the trial rules.

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