Whistleblowers Accuse Texas Attorney General of Retaliation

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton waits for the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence at Love Field Airport in Dallas on June 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Four former seniors staffers have sued Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, claiming they were retaliated against after they reported him to the FBI for bribery and abuse of office for allegedly using his position to help a mistress and a campaign donor.

The whistleblower lawsuit was filed Thursday in Travis County District Court by Blake Brickman, former deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives; Mark Penley, former deputy attorney general for criminal justice; Ryan Vassar, deputy attorney general for legal counsel; and David Maxwell, former director of the office’s enforcement division.

They demand their jobs back, payment of back wages and unspecified damages for injury to their reputations. They also seek $15,000 in fines for each alleged violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act.

A total of seven senior staffers made headlines last month when they disclosed they had reported their boss to federal officials. Six of the whistleblowers have since resigned or been fired. Vassar is the only remaining whistleblower still employed – he is currently on leave.

“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 and pathetic,” the 37-page complaint states.

The seven whistleblowers objected to Paxton appointing Houston attorney Brandon Cammack as a special, outside prosecutor to investigate alleged enemies of Republican campaign donor and real estate investor Nate Paul. Penley convinced a state judge to quash a subpoena on Oct. 2 that Cammack issued against one of Paul’s creditors.

“He is not properly authorized to act as a special prosecutor, and … has no authority to appear before the grand jury or issue grand jury subpoenas,” Penley’s motion to quash stated.

The plaintiffs claim Cammack issued 39 subpoenas during his investigation that were excessive in scope and were allegedly designed to harass law enforcement and federal prosecutors who were looking into Paul and his businesses. Paul’s home and businesses were raided last year, but he has yet to be charged.

The former aides claim they were pressured by Paxton to give Paul’s lawyers state and federal records into the raids, but they resisted because they believed it would violate a policy of exempting records of ongoing investigations from state public records and would likely result in lawsuits.

The plaintiffs further claim Paxton ordered his office to issue an advisory opinion that would prevent some of Paul’s real estate properties being foreclosed on during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Paul has donated $25,000 to Paxton’s campaign. He has also given money to the campaigns of at least three other Texas Republicans in the past two years, including Congressmen Chip Roy and Michael McCaul and U.S. Senator John Cornyn, according to Federal Election Commission records.

“Paxton began taking more interest in legal matters involving Nate Paul and applying more pressure on the plaintiffs and other whistleblowers to use the personnel, legal authority and other resources of [his office] to advance the legal and personal interests of Nate Paul,” the complaint states.

Paxton was forced to close the investigation on Paul’s behalf after Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore called him out on Oct. 9, alleging Paxton personally approached her office with Paul and Paul’s attorney to complain about FBI and Texas Rangers investigations into Paul.

Moore said her office referred the complaint back to Paxton’s office on June 10.

“We concluded that ours was not the appropriate office to either address the matters raised in the complaint or to conduct an investigation into them,” Moore wrote at the time. “My office has closed this file and will take no further action. Furthermore, I have instructed my employees to have no further contact with you or your office regarding this matter.”

A bombshell was dropped last week when two anonymous sources claimed Paxton admitted to having an affair with a woman in 2018. Paul admitted last week during a deposition in an unrelated state civil case that Paxton recommended the woman to him for a job, but Paul explicitly denied he hired her as a favor to Paxton.

Thursday’s lawsuit echoes the allegations that Paxton had an affair. Paxton’s wife is state Senator Angela Paxton, R-McKinney. The couple has not publicly commented on the allegations.

Paxton’s office did not immediately respond Friday afternoon to email messages requesting comment on the lawsuit.

Concerns over Paxton’s ethics have dogged him for five years. A Collin County grand jury charged Paxton in August 2015 with two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud and a third-degree felony count of failing to register with the Texas State Securities Board from his time in the Texas House.

Prosecutors claim the attorney general urged investors to put $600,000 into technology firm Servergy without disclosing he would earn a commission and misrepresented he was investing in the McKinney-based company.

Paxton faces up to 99 years in state prison if convicted. The criminal case has been stuck in pretrial for over five years as the case has been moved to Harris County and back while Paxton has launched several attempts at having the judge removed.

He has repeatedly denied the criminal charges against him, blaming his political opponents for retaliating against him for opposing policies by then-President Barack Obama.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a similar civil lawsuit against Paxton in April 2016 in Dallas federal court over the Servergy matter. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit six months later, finding Paxton “did not have a legal obligation to disclose his financial arrangements” to the firm’s investors.

One year later, a Dallas-area district attorney launched an ethics probe into Paxton accepting a $100,000 gift for his legal defense fund from James Webb, the leader of a company that was being investigated for Medicaid fraud.

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