88th LegislatureState HouseTexas House Investigative Committee Runs Through Probe of Attorney General Paxton

Paxton has faced multiple years-long lawsuits, neither of which have fully played out in court.
May 24, 2023
A case of improprieties was laid out by a Texas House committee Wednesday morning against Attorney General Ken Paxton, detailing long-public allegations against the state official of securities fraud and abuse of office dealings with real estate mogul and donor Nate Paul.

The House General Investigating Committee heard three hours of testimony from its team of legal counselors, who since March have been looking into various cases against Paxton that have been playing out in court for years.

Chief Counsel Erin Epley announced formally that the investigation into “Matter A,” one of the anonymous titles the committee uses to conceal the identities of those being investigated and the topics therein, concerns the attorney general himself.

The handful of attorneys involved in the committee’s investigation each have a Harris County background, including working in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office or a U.S. Attorney’s Office. In an apparent attempt to underscore credibility, Chairman Andrew Murr (R-Junction) made a point to note that Epley worked under former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas Ryan Patrick, son of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Epley said the committee has interviewed 15 individuals with connections to Paxton and the allegations, including the four whistleblowers involved in the years-long lawsuit by multiple former employees of his: David Maxwell, Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley, and Blake Brickman.

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“General Paxton refers to these men as ‘political appointees,’ but they are his political appointees,” Epley told the committee.

In November 2020, those former employees accused Paxton of abusing his office to assist Paul — who’s donated substantial sums of money to the attorney general — with an ongoing federal probe into his real estate business.

Paxton settled with the whistleblowers in February this year for $3.3 million to conclude the case out of court, but that settlement has since stalled out after the Legislature — specifically the House — denied the attorney general’s request that the state pay for the settlement.

In February, Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) said he did not consider the settlement a “proper use of taxpayer dollars.”

The committee also laid out in detail the findings surrounding the eight-year-old securities fraud indictment against Paxton that has bounced around in court for years with no resolution.

Out of the 15 interviewed, Epley said only one did not express a fear of retribution by the attorney general for speaking out.

Murr, the committee, and its counselors firmly condemned the attorney general for alleged actions in these cases but did not state any next step intentions before heading into executive session — presumably to interview an unidentified “John Doe Number 6” identified at Tuesday’s announcement of Wednesday’s meeting.

As the committee gaveled in, Paxton appeared on Dallas radio host Mark Davis’ show and called the investigation “shocking,” attacking the House for spending time on this rather than “[passing] important things like school choice.”

Further, Paxton said in a statement posted to Twitter, “It is not surprising that a committee appointed by liberal Speaker Dade Phelan would seek to disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as Attorney General.”

“The false testimony of highly partisan Democrat lawyers with the goal of manipulating and misleading the public is reprehensible.”

He further stated that the allegations are “easily disproved.”

The “disenfranchise Texas voters” line likely indicates Paxton believes an impeachment effort by the House is in the cards.

State code reads, “The house of representatives may conduct an impeachment proceeding at a regular or called session at its pleasure without further call or action.” 

If not in session, the governor may convene the Legislature to consider the item, as may the speaker with a petition signed by 50 House members or without the speaker by a petition signed by the body’s majority.

If passed by the House, the Senate would then consider the impeachment case and potential conviction, similar to the federal government’s process.

Paxton won re-election last year for his third term in the office.

The meeting today was prefaced yesterday by a wild string of events that included the attorney general calling for Phelan to resign for “obvious intoxication,” citing a viral video in which the speaker slurred his words while presiding over the House:

  • At around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the House General Investigating Committee announced a meeting to come at 3:00 p.m.
  • At 2:53 p.m., Paxton tweeted out his statement calling for the speaker’s resignation.
  • At 3:00 p.m., the committee convened and went into executive session.
  • At 3:10 p.m., the Office of the Attorney General tweeted out the letter sent to the committee calling for an investigation into Phelan.
  • At around 4:40 p.m., the committee announced publicly that it had issued the two subpoenas in “Matter A,” now known to be the Paxton probe, and would hear public testimony the following day at 8:00 a.m.

After Paxton called for Phelan’s resignation, a spokesperson for the speaker said, “Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last ditch effort to save face.”

Murr said the House General Investigating Committee would be meeting throughout the day Wednesday while the body is in session. Wednesday is the third reading deadline for all Senate bills in the House, and for all bills in the upper chamber.

Hayden Sparks contributed to this report.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.