Controversy has shrouded the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) since the beginning of October when seven senior aides accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of “violations of law” with respect to Paxton’s “relationship and activities” with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
Paxton has denied the allegations, calling his accusers “rogue employees.”
Below is a timeline of the events related to the controversy that are known thus far.
October 29, 2018: Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) records indicate Nate Paul contributed $25,000 to Paxton’s campaign.
In the same month, Paul contributed $10,000 to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, $5,000 to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), $5,000 to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, $2,500 to Land Commissioner George P. Bush, $1,000 to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, $1,000 to Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick, and $1,000 to Texas Supreme Court Justice John Devine.
December 2018: The Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation, a non-profit corporation and charitable foundation, files a lawsuit against several entities associated with Paul’s business, World Class Holdings LLC.
Fall 2019: Paul submits an open record request to the Texas State Securities Board for documents related to the FBI raid, per the whistleblower lawsuit. The Board subsequently requested an opinion on the open records request to the OAG.
November 25, 2019: The OAG responds to the request from the State Securities Board stating that the records were not subject to disclosure. The whistleblower lawsuit claims that the decision came “despite Paxton’s pressure on Whistleblower Ryan Bangert to release the records.”
January 2020: The Financial Litigation and Charitable Trust Division of the OAG declines to intervene in the lawsuit between the Mitte Foundation and World Class Holdings, according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
March 13, 2020: Paul’s attorneys submitted an open records request to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for documents related to the August 2019 FBI raid, per the whistleblower lawsuit. The lawsuit also claims that Paxton directed Ryan Vassar to find a way to release the records requested by Paul’s team and that Paxton ultimately “personally took the file [. . .] and did not return it for approximately seven to ten days.”
May 2020: Paxton, Paul, and Paul’s defense attorney, Michael Wynne, meet with officials from the Travis County District Attorney’s (DA) Office in regards to a complaint from Paul that raised allegations against several entities including the FBI and DPS, according to a release from Travis County District Attorney (DA) Margaret Moore.
May 20, 2020: Paul’s attorneys submit an open records request to the OAG requesting the same, unredacted documents that they had sought from DPS in March, according to the whistleblower lawsuit. The suit also claims that Paxton asked Vassar for a copy of the documents and directed him to find a way to release the documents to Paul’s attorneys.
May/June 2020: Paul files a Request to Investigate (RTI) with the Travis County DA.
Per the whistleblower lawsuit, Paxton began to take an interest in intervening in the litigation between the Mitte Foundation and World Class, discussing the case with OAG staff.
June 2: The OAG issues an opinion on the DPS open records request that took no opinion on whether the documents should be released, according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
June 8: Paxton directs the Charitable Trusts Division of the OAG to intervene in the Mitte Foundation lawsuit “in order to exert pressure on the parties to settle,” according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
June 10: The Travis County DA’s Office sends a letter referring the RTI to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), stating that the DA “would typically forward such a complaint to the Public Integrity Unit of the Texas Rangers for review,” but that “since an employee of the Department of Public Safety is one of the subjects in the complaint, referral to the Rangers would appear inappropriate.”
Two complaints from Paul were reportedly sent by the DA to the OAG, one of which the Associated Press says made allegations against an Austin car dealership owner conspiring to illegally seize $200 million worth of properties from Paul’s business.
June 17: The letter is marked as received by the OAG.
July 6: Per the whistleblower lawsuit, Paxton asks then-Deputy Attorney General for Policy and Strategy Initiatives Blake Brickman to review the pleadings in the Mitte Foundation lawsuit, but Brickman refuses. He informs Paxton that the parties in the case had reached a settlement in August 2019, but that Paul subsequently breached the settlement.
July 22: Per the whistleblower lawsuit, Mateer and Brickman talk Paxton out of personally appearing before the Travis County District Court in the Mitte Foundation case.
July 24: The OAG releases a letter on the open records request submitted to the OAG by Paul’s attorneys in May. The letter states that the OAG must release the records as requested.
July 31: Paxton asks then-Deputy First Assistant Attorney General Ryan Bangert to look into whether COVID-19 restrictions would prohibit in-person foreclosure sales, according to the whistleblower lawsuit. The suit also claims that “Paxton made clear that he wanted OAG to express a specific conclusion: that foreclosure sales should not be permitted to continue.”
August 1: Bangert sends a letter from the OAG with an informal opinion about limiting foreclosure sales amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paxton reportedly ordered the rushed letter during a weekend. The foreclosure sales of two properties owned by Paul’s company that was scheduled for August 4 was reportedly called off after the OAG published its letter.
August 18: Paxton contacts Ryan Vassar, the Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel, “asking him to explain how the OAG could retain outside legal counsel” with respect to the investigation referred to the OAG by the Travis County DA, according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
August 26: Paxton again contacts Vassar asking “if retaining outside counsel to investigate criminal allegations was permissible,” according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
The suit says that on the same day, Vassar begins contacting two potential candidates for the outside counsel that Paxton recommended.
September 3: According to the whistleblower lawsuit, Paxton announced his decision to retain Houston attorney Brandon Cammack as outside counsel and “instructed Vassar to draft an outside counsel contract and send it to Cammack that same day.”
Vassar emails Cammack at 6:52 p.m. with an “Outside Counsel Contract” (OCC) stipulating a $300 hourly rate, billed monthly, to “conduct an investigation, under the authority of the OAG, of the criminal allegations contained in the complaint referred to the OAG by the District Attorney’s Office.”
The contract says that Cammack “shall prepare a report documenting any potential criminal charges that may be discovered in the course of the investigation.”
The contract states that it “expressly excludes legal services relating to any other post-investigation activities, including, but not limited to, indictment and prosecution.”
According to the whistleblower lawsuit, Paxton had asked Cammack to begin work as outside counsel on September 3 even though the contract had not yet been formally approved.
On the same day, Katherine Cary, the chief of staff for the OAG, submits a letter of retirement to First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer.
September 4: Cammack responds to Vassar with an email at 5:33 p.m. saying, “This draft looks good. Please send an executed copy back. Additionally my firm does not have any conflicts of interest with regards to this investigation and OCC agreement. I will continue to look for potential conflicts that may arise in the future and inform the Attorney General’s Office in the event a conflict arises.”
September 23: Cammack contacts Vassar and asks if he could obtain an OAG email address or other official documentation to identify that he was working on behalf of the OAG, according to the whistleblower lawsuit. The suit claims that the contract sent to Cammack was only a draft and that it had yet to be formally approved by the OAG.
September 24: Then-Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice refuses to sign an approval of Cammack’s outside counsel contract, according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
September 28: Cammack obtains 39 grand jury subpoenas from the Travis County Grand Jury that were outside of the scope of the investigation referred to the OAG by the Travis County DA, according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
September 30: Seven senior aides in the OAG “reported to an appropriate law enforcement authority a potential violation of law committed by Warren K. Paxton, Jr.” The seven officials included Mateer, Rayan Bangert, Blake Brickman, Lacey Mase, Darren McCarty, Mark Penley, and Ryan Vassar.
An eighth employee, David Maxwell, would have joined the complaint but was out of state at the time it was made, according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
October 1: Mateer sends a text message at 12:48 p.m. to Paxton stating that he and the six others “made a good faith report of violations of law [. . .] concerning [Paxton’s] relationship and activities with Nate Paul.”
Mateer requested Paxton to meet with the group to discuss the matter at 3:00 p.m. that day.
Paxton replied to Mateer’s message at 3:08 p.m., saying, “Jeff, I am out of the office and received this text on very short notice. I am happy as always to address any issues or concerns. Please email me with those issues so that they can be fully addressed.”
On the same day, Mateer and the six other whistleblowers sent a letter to the OAG’s human resources department notifying them of the report of violations and their text message to Paxton.
Also on the same day, then-Deputy Attorney General for Civil Litigation and whistleblower Darren McCarty directed the Charitable Trusts Division to withdraw from the Mitte Foundation court case, according to the whistleblower lawsuit.
October 2: Mateer resigns his position with the OAG. Representatives from the First Liberty Institute confirmed that Mateer, who had worked as the organization’s general counsel prior to his employment with the OAG, had returned to work for them.
October 5: Paxton appoints Central Texas attorney Brent Webster as first assistant attorney general.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21), who worked as Paxton’s top assistant in 2015, calls for Paxton’s resignation, saying, “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.”
Paxton releases a statement expounding on the connection to Nate Paul and says he will not resign from his position.
“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,” said Paxton.
“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. Despite the effort by rogue employees and their false allegations I will continue to seek justice in Texas and will not be resigning.”
October 7: Paxton releases a statement to defend the hire of Brandon Cammack as “Independent Counsel,” reiterating that the decision was made “because the Attorney General knew Nate Paul.”
October 8: The Travis County DA Margaret Moore releases a statement claiming that Paxton initiated the investigation that Paul requested.
October 9: Moore further distances her office from the OAG investigation with a letter to Paxton stating that her office “has closed this file and will take no further action.”
Following Moore’s letter, the OAG announced that it was closing the investigation.
“Today, Travis County notified our office it was closing their file from complainant Nate Paul. In this case, we can only investigate in response to a request for assistance from the District Attorney’s office. This investigation is now closed,” stated the office.
October 19: Whistleblower Ryan Vassar was reportedly placed on leave. The whistleblower lawsuit corroborated the report.
The lawsuit claims that on the same day, Webster sent several of the whistleblowers an email instructing them “not to work on any OAG business relating to your allegations against Nate Paul, General Paxton, or any connected cases or OAG matters.”
Brickman responds with an email asking for clarification on whether the investigation related to Nate Paul had been closed as announced on October 9. According to the suit, Webster did not respond with any clarification.
October 20: Whistleblowers Lacey Mase and Blake Brickman were fired.
October 26: Whistleblower Darren McCarty confirmed that he was resigning from the OAG.
October 28: Whistleblower Ryan Bangert reportedly resigned.
November 2: After being placed on investigative leave for several weeks, reports confirm that whistleblowers David Maxwell and Mark Penley were both fired from the agency.
November 5: New reports surface that Paul’s company had hired a woman earlier in 2019 who Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair with.
November 12: Four of the whistleblowers file a lawsuit against Paxton and the OAG alleging retaliation for their complaints of criminal misconduct.
November 17: Michael Wynne, Paul’s attorney, sends a letter to Paxton saying, “The contention by former staff that OAG investigation of the serious matters my client raised would improperly benefit him is preposterous.”
“OAG actions to date have only served to frustrate any resolution, and worse, appear to have been intended to create false impressions of the truth and damage Mr. Paul,” wrote Wynne.
According to reports from November 24, whistleblower Ryan Vassar, the last whistleblower to be employed by the OAG and who also joined the whistleblower lawsuit, is fired.
On the evening of November 17, the Associated Press reports that the FBI is conducting an investigation into Paxton.
Paxton releases a statement shortly thereafter, saying that the allegations in the whistleblower lawsuit “are overblown, based upon assumptions, and to a large degree misrepresent the facts.”
“Unfortunately, these attorneys chose to air their grievances through the media and through the courts, rather than established and objective internal processes. Given these circumstances, we will be fully prepared to address these allegations through the judicial system, if necessary,” said Paxton.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.