There’s a tangled web of criminal accusations unraveling at the highest levels of Texas’ chief law enforcement office.
After his own staff accused him of abusing his office, engaging in bribery, and taking official actions “under duress,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has responded by saying his employees were trying to “set the narrative” against him.
Texans are left wondering who and what to believe, as the scandal threatens to disrupt important law enforcement work for the pivotal November election season.
The Key Figures
At the center of the fight are two long-standing legal icons of the conservative movement in Texas: Attorney General Paxton, and his chief accuser and former employee, Jeff Mateer.
Ken Paxton has been in the public eye since his election to the Texas House in 2002, and became a household name when he challenged disgraced House Speaker Joe Straus in 2011. Though he was defeated for the speakership, Paxton continued to fight – and was elevated by voters to an open Texas Senate seat the following year.
Jeff Mateer is well-known in evangelical political circles due to his work for the highly respected First Liberty Institute—a Christian legal group that tackles First Amendment issues. A respected lawyer and legal commentator, Mateer was nominated for a federal judicial post by President Donald Trump, but leftwing attacks on Mateer’s comments regarding homosexuality eventually tanked his nomination in late 2017.
Paxton was elevated by voters statewide to the Office of the Attorney General in 2014, and two years later he hired Mateer to be his First Assistant – a prestigious posting that is responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the agency, similar to the position of “chief of staff.”
The other pivotal player at the center of the scandal is a relatively unknown real estate investor from Austin named Nate Paul. In August 2019, Paul’s home and offices were raided by state and federal law enforcement officials. In the intervening year, no charges have been filed against him and Paul claims the searches were done improperly—or even illegally. At some point in the last several years, before the 2019 raid, Paul formed a close relationship with Paxton— both politically and socially. This fact is important and might be at the center of the controversy.
The First Shot
On Oct. 2, 2020, seven of Paxton’s top aides—including Mateer, and other leaders of major departments at the agency—signed a letter to the AG’s human resources department, which was later leaked to the media, that read the following:
“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.”
At the same time, Mateer also resigned as First Assistant.
Their letter did not delve into specific accusations, but the employees claimed they provided statements regarding Paxton’s alleged crimes “to the appropriate law enforcement authority.”
That letter also didn’t mention Nate Paul, although his name was included in a text message to Paxton sent by the employees that was attached to the letter and later released.
“General Paxton, yesterday each of the individuals on this text chain made a good faith report of violations of law by you to an appropriate law enforcement authority concerning your relationship and activities with Nate Paul,” the text message written by Mateer stated.
A Volley of Calls for Investigation… And Resignation
After the letter was released, officials including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Allen)—the chairman of the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee— publicly called for a full investigation.
“Certainly you, like all Texans, are entitled to a presumption of innocence until an investigation is completed and a judicial determination is rendered. That said, at this time Texans have good reason to be concerned that the important work of the agency may not be possible under your continued leadership,” wrote Leach in a letter to Paxton that was made available to the public.
Additionally, officials such as U.S. Rep. Chip Roy—Paxton’s original First Assistant—called on the attorney general to resign from office. Paxton replied that he will not, and instead called his accusers “rogue employees” leveling “false allegations.”
Paxton Fires Back
This week, in an interview with the Southeast Texas Record, Paxton specifically questioned the motives of Mateer, the AG’s Director of Law Enforcement David Maxwell, and Deputy AG for Criminal Justice Mark Penley. Penley was one of the seven who signed the accusation letter, but Maxwell did not.
Paxton told the publication he was about to place the three on investigative leave for mishandling a complaint case from an Austin resident (Nate Paul), but that Mateer “found out” and wanted to resign first in order to “set the narrative.”
“My own staff attacked me publicly … all I ever asked them to do was find the truth,” Paxton said. “I was about to put Mateer on emergency investigative leave for issues related to this particular incident. I think he found out about it and decided he wanted to leave and set the narrative.”
Records allegedly exist that at least partially support Paxton’s claim. However, Paxton’s office is refusing to make those records available.
The “incident” in question was that Nate Paul, the Austin real estate investor, had his home and offices raided on Aug. 14, 2019, yet has not been charged with any crime in the more than a year since. The raid was led by U.S. Attorney John Bash, and included agents from the FBI, state securities board, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Rangers.
Bash resigned as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020 – three days after Mateer resigned his post. However, there has so far been no information showing the two resignations are connected.
Paul has complained that the 2019 searches were conducted inappropriately (and perhaps illegally), and after the incident, Nate Paul sought out Paxton’s help. Paxton has publicly stated he has been friends with Paul, who has donated to various candidates’ campaigns, including to Paxton.
Allegedly, Paxton took Paul to meet with the Travis County District Attorney to discuss the legality of the raids.
Then on June 10, 2020, the Travis County District Attorney’s office referred the case to the Office of the Attorney General.
“[Travis County] typically forward[s] such a complaint to the Public Integrity Unit of the Texas Rangers for review,” wrote Don Clemmer, who heads the Travis County special prosecutions division. “However, since an employee of the Department of Public Safety is one of the subjects of the complaint, referral to the Rangers would appear inappropriate.”
Blocking An Investigation?
Following Paul’s complaint being referred to the OAG, sources say the staff delayed beginning their investigation into the matter until Paxton pressed them to do so.
OAG Law Enforcement Director Maxwell, a 25-year veteran of DPS, finally met with Paul, and according to a letter from Paul’s attorney, Maxwell “berated and insulted [Paul] for bringing the complaint” and told him that regardless of any evidence presented, Maxwell would never believe that law enforcement illegally raided his properties.
“It was not a good interview—it was pretty harsh,” Paxton told the newspaper, saying he watched a video of the meeting. “It was clear [Maxwell] had no interest in doing an investigation.”
After more meetings with Paul, one of which Paxton and Deputy AG Penley attended, Paxton said he thought it a good idea to bring in an outside investigator for the case.
“It seems like my office did everything possible to stop an investigation of some law enforcement agencies,” Paxton said. “I can only come to the conclusion that there was an effort to cover up the reality of what really happened. This wasn’t supposed to be a complicated investigation.”
Paxton decided an outside investigator was needed, saying he wanted someone who would “find the truth no matter which way it falls.”
However, in a meeting on September 28, Mateer told Paxton he did not have the authority to sign such a contract.
“In that meeting, Mateer told me I didn’t have the authority to sign contracts. I said ‘that makes no sense to me. That cannot be right,’” said Paxton, who claims he then asked Mateer what law says the attorney general cannot do that. Mateer eventually gave Paxton a “big stack of papers with policies related to contracts.”
“When I read it, I realized what he (Mateer) had been telling me was false,” Paxton claimed. “Not only do I have the authority to sign contracts, there are certain contracts that only I can sign. It was disturbing to find out that I had been misled.”
Paxton said he immediately called Mateer, but Mateer allegedly replied he would resign if Paxton continued to pursue the contract.
“I was surprised by his comment after giving me false information,” Paxton said. “I don’t know why there’s so much turmoil over this investigation. I’m not impugning every law enforcement agent. We all should be held accountable. We all have to follow the law.”
Armed with his own understanding of his authority as the Attorney General of Texas, Paxton contracted with Houston criminal defense attorney Brandon Cammack to serve as a special prosecutor in the Paul case. As such, Cammack sought subpoenas so that he could investigate the matter.
The Deputy OAG, Mark Penley, intervened, however, and told a Travis County judge that Cammack was not authorized to issue subpoenas and did not represent the OAG. The judge blocked the subpoenas, essentially stalling Cammack’s work and the Paul case.
He Said – He Said
After Mateer resigned earlier this month, he returned to the well-respected Christian legal group First Liberty. Texas Scorecard tried to contact Mateer for this article, but he has not responded. Mateer has, however, spoken to the left-leaning Austin-American Statesman, where he disputed Paxton’s version of the events.
“He never mentioned to me that he was going to put me on investigative leave,” Mateer said, adding his last communication with Paxton was via text message shortly before resigning late in the day on October 2. In that text message, he informed Paxton that the seven staff had provided statements to law enforcement agents.
“That’s the last communication that I had with him,” Mateer told the AAS. “I was trying to respect the process, but if he’s going to misinform the public…” [sic].
Sources close to the Attorney General’s office have told Texas Scorecard that Paxton issued a letter mid-afternoon on Friday, Oct. 2, instructing the Human Resources department to put Mateer, Penley, and Maxwell on paid leave so that an investigation into their actions could occur. Less than an hour later, Mateer announced his resignation.
Assistant Attorney General Lauren Downey, the Public Information Coordinator, refused to make a copy of the alleged letter available to Texas Scorecard, writing: “Our office believes the information you have requested is excepted from disclosure.”
Meanwhile, the Office of the Attorney General dropped their investigation into the Nate Paul complaint because Travis County closed its file on the matter—thus ending the June referral arrangement.
“There are some red flags here worth investigating,” Paxton told the Southeast Texas Record. “We’re looking at all options. I want to make sure your constitutional rights are protected, no matter who you are.”
Meanwhile, away from the noise surrounding the Nate Paul incident, an Austin Capitol blog run by Mike Hailey— a former communications director for the Texas Democrat Party – reported allegations on Oct. 9 that Paxton has had an affair with a Capitol staffer.
“The serious criminal allegations that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is facing could be tied to some degree to an episode of infidelity involving a woman who’s been employed by one of his wife’s colleagues in Legislature’s upper chamber,” wrote Hailey.
Rumors about the affair have been circulating around Austin for more than two years, with no one willing to go forward to publicly accuse Paxton of cheating on his wife—Texas Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney). Attorney General Paxton has been aware of the rumors and has at various times denied them or said the affair had ended.
Neither Hailey nor anyone else has publicly expounded on how the alleged affair “could be tied” to the Nate Paul situation.
Investigations On Top of Investigations
These most recent allegations only serve to put more of a spotlight on the spurious charges Paxton has faced since before his election as Attorney General. That case originated when a former colleague of Paxton’s in the Texas House shopped around a complaint—as a political stunt—alleging that Paxton had broken laws regarding securities trading.
Paxton did himself no favors at the time, by agreeing to a “make it go away” settlement with an obscure state agency rather than mess with a fight ahead of his statewide election. That action by Paxton’s team, in turn, became the “proof” he had done something wrong.
A federal court dismissed identical civil charges, and numerous legal experts claim the matter is without merit. Nonetheless, outside prosecutors were able to convince a grand jury to indict Paxton on state-level criminal charges that carry a sentence of up to 99 years in jail.
The criminal case has all but ended, having collapsed under the weight of the facts and the law. Yet the outside prosecutor has used this new scandal as an excuse to re-up his case in the court of public opinion.
Rushing to Judgment, and the Questions that Remain
The various sides in this conflict are putting on a case in the court of public opinion to a win the backing of Texans. As such, citizens need to be careful about rushing to take sides in a fight being waged on the battlefield of the establishment media. Each of the players in this saga has an objective of making it: Smear Mateer! Prosecute Paxton! Protect the OAG staff!
It will be important for citizens to avoid conflation of the issues and watch for the intersection of facts and evidence. There are at least four major points worth stating and asking questions about as the events unfold.
1) This current situation is not factually related to the charges against Paxton from more than five years ago. Even if one accepts with absolute confidence that the charges and “crimes” alleged back then are legitimate—a position that is at odds with federal court decisions and numerous legal scholars—there is not a factual relationship between the cases. Suggestions otherwise should be treated skeptically.
2) The Nate Paul scandal has, at its heart, allegations that federal and state law enforcement officials abused the rights of an American citizen. The facts from all sides seem to indicate an unwillingness by the OAG staff to investigate Paul’s complaint; their unwillingness to do so must be explored.
If the 2019 raid was properly conducted, why has that not been confirmed? Why delay an investigation into the raid? If the raids were legitimate, why, after more than 13 months, has Nate Paul not been charged with a crime?
On the other hand, Nate Paul might—indeed—be a notorious villain. But in the current environment, shouldn’t state investigators be willing to double-check that the actions of law enforcement officials are conducted properly? Even accused criminals have constitutional rights.
Just as important, what if Mr. Paul is not a villain and merely a businessman targeted for less than honorable reasons? Is it merely a coincidence that U.S. Attorney Bash resigned from office three days after Mateer tendered his own resignation?
Likewise, it is possible—as the seven OAG employees allege—that Paxton was acting “under duress” in pushing for this investigation into the complaint made by his friend Mr. Paul. Whether or not Nate Paul’s allegations have merit, Texans need to be certain their elected officials are not acting improperly or unethically in the course of their jobs. Was Mr. Paxton simply pursuing justice for a Texan, or was he acting under undue influence?
3) The timing of everything that transpired will be important to understand before making a judgment. For example, did Mateer resign rather than face an internal investigation? That would be the inference from Paxton’s claim. Or, as Mateer himself has implied, did he leave because the office’s ethical environment had eroded? Was the investigation into Mateer, if it even existed, a counter-move by Paxton to point the finger at his chief accuser?
4) The insertion of the long-rumored affair is curious. Why is it now being discussed and brought to light by the former spokesman for the Democrat Party? What is the connection, if any, to the Nate Paul situation? That answer could go a long way in addressing the assertions Paxton allegedly took his actions “under duress.”
No law enforcement agency has yet stated they are investigating Attorney General Paxton, and the matter is currently playing out in a drip of media attacks. He currently faces no actual charges related to the insinuations leveled in a one-page letter to the OAG human resources department.
It is important to note that even if an investigation is announced or charges filed, Paxton has no legal obligation to resign.
Meanwhile, members of the Texas Legislature could conceivably impeach the Attorney General, but that process would have to originate in the Texas House. Paxton has his detractors in the House, but impeachments are exceedingly rare in Texas and legislators will be loath to take a shot and miss.
Meanwhile, an impeachment trial would be conducted by the Texas Senate, a body in which Paxton served before becoming the Attorney General—and where his wife is now a sitting senator.
For citizens, the whole matter— regardless of the merit of the charges and counter claims—represents what could be a costly distraction from the critical role of the Office of the Attorney General in carrying out its mission—most notably, in the middle of investigations and prosecutions of election integrity issues during this critical election.
Days after Mateer resigned, Paxton hired Williamson County attorney Brent Webster to serve as the new First Assistant Attorney General. This puts Webster in the hot-seat, tasked with keeping the state’s highest law enforcement office working during a pivotal time in the state and nation. It will be up to Webster, amid a chaotic blaze of crossfire, to restrain the open hostilities between Paxton and key staff while still doing the work of the people of Texas.
The establishment media has been eating up and spewing forth details in the hope citizens will take emotional sides rather than wait for the facts.
But while the impulse—even the demand—to pick sides will be strong, it will be up to citizens to remain planted firmly on the side of truth, demanding that actual justice be done.