A powerful House Republican is expected to be the key witness against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton when his case goes to trial. But will he be forced to plead the Fifth in order to protect himself in his own trial?

Prosecutors who are pursuing Paxton are expected to take his case to trial beginning May 1st. Their allegations are based almost entirely on the claims of one man, State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana). That means that Cook will be expected to be a witness at the Paxton trial for several days during the busiest part of session.

In the meantime, Cook is being accused of fraud in a Collin County lawsuit filed by a former business partner. The claims involved in that case are so similar to Cook’s allegations against Paxton that Cook’s attorney has recently been walking the allegations back, apparently out of fear that Cook will snare himself with his own lies.

Cook has so far avoided answering questions by using his legislative continuance and hired a democratic colleague in order to acquire a legislative continuance for his co-defendants in the fraud lawsuit.

But if Cook testifies on behalf of the prosecution in the Paxton case, he will open himself up to cross-examination by the Paxton’s attorneys. Their questions undoubtedly will relate back to Cook’s involvement in various business enterprises with Paxton.

Pleading the Fifth could protect Cook from having his answers used against him in the fraud lawsuit or in a criminal investigation.

Refusing to testify and answer questions could also save Cook time during a critical period of the legislative session. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is reportedly considering promoting Cook to chair the Calendars Committee.

The House deadline for passage of House Bills is May 12th. The Paxton trial will be in full swing and Cook will be testifying as the House is setting floor calendars for the busiest days of session.

Or he may plead the Fifth and avoid giving that testimony.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.