Several top deputies of Texas' attorney general have reported to law enforcement that their boss engaged in crimes including bribery and abuse of office, according to an internal letter.
In a single-page letter to the director of human resources in the attorney general's office, the seven senior lawyers wrote that they reported Republican Ken Paxton to "the appropriate law enforcement authority" for potentially breaking the law "in his official capacity as the current Attorney General of Texas."
"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," the Thursday letter states. It was first reported jointly by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV and subsequently obtained by The Associated Press.
The letter does not offer specifics but nonetheless stands as a remarkable accusation of criminal wrongdoing against the state's top law enforcement officer by his own staff, including some longtime supporters of his conservative Christian politics. It is likely to deepen legal trouble for Paxton, who has spent nearly his entire five years in office under felony indictment for securities fraud, although the case has stalled for years over legal challenges.
Philip Hilder, Paxton's defense attorney in the securities case, declined to comment on the new allegations Sunday. Paxton pleaded not guilty in that case but it is not clear whether the new accusations are related.
Paxton's office issued the following statement to NBC DFW.
"The complaint filed against Attorney General Paxton was done to impede an ongoing investigation into criminal wrongdoing by public officials including employees of this office. Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law.
“At this time, we will not comment further since this is an ongoing investigation.”
It's unclear what investigation is being referenced in the statement. A spokeswoman for the attorney general did not immediately respond to an email and phone call Sunday.
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"These allegations raise serious concerns," Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, said in a Sunday statement. He declined to comment further "until the results of any investigation are complete."
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued the following statement Saturday night.
“Indicted Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is the top law enforcement official in the state. Yet, he has proven for years that he cannot follow the law himself. Ken Paxton is an admitted lawbreaker. He’s been investigated by the Texas Rangers, and currently on trial for criminal securities fraud. Now, he faces bribery and illegal conduct allegations from his own top aides.
“Texans are tired of Republican corruption and lawlessness that festers under their unchecked power. From voter suppression to his attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and now these new allegations: Indicted Ken Paxton’s actions have been criminal, and the consequences are dire for the people of Texas.
“Texans deserve new leadership and they are demanding change. To bring change, every Texan must vote Democratic up and down the ballot in November. We’re not only in a battle to stop the pandemic and save our state, but to save our entire democracy.”
The letter was signed by the deputy attorneys general for policy, administration, civil litigation, criminal investigations and legal counsel, as well as Paxton's first assistant, Jeff Mateer, and Mateer's deputy. None of them responded to messages seeking comment Saturday or Sunday.
Mateer resigned from Paxton's office Friday to rejoin a prominent conservative nonprofit law firm in the Dallas-area, according to NBC 5's media partner The Dallas Morning News. The First Liberty Institute did not immediately respond to an inquiry about him Sunday.
Paxton, a Republican who is in his second term, has raised his national profile as a conservative crusader under President Donald Trump, including leading a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act that goes before the Supreme Court this fall and leading Lawyers for Trump, a group supporting the president's reelection.
Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the FBI's San Antonio office, said it's agency policy not to comment on whether it has received allegations of crimes or is investigating. The U.S. Attorneys Office for the Western District of Texas did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday. Bill Miller, a veteran Texas political consultant who's worked for Republicans and Democrats, said he couldn't think of any precedent for a current elected leader's staff accusing them of crimes.
"It's like, wow," he said.