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The FBI is investigating Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Associated Press reported Tuesday evening, vetting allegations made by eight of Paxton's former top aides that he illegally used the power of his office to benefit a political donor.
Two unnamed sources told the AP that the bureau was examining claims made by the whistleblowers that Paxton broke the law by intervening several times in legal matters involving Nate Paul, a real estate investor and friend who donated $25,000 to Paxton's campaign in 2018.
On Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, eight aides in total told authorities that they believed Paxton had committed crimes as part of his relationship with Paul, citing bribery and abuse of office. Since then, four aides have been fired, three have resigned, and one has been placed on leave — sparking a whistleblower lawsuit.
Paxton, a Republican in his second term, has denied wrongdoing and said he will not resign his post, even as some in his own party call on him to do so and the state's top leaders call the allegations "concerning."
Earlier Tuesday, before the FBI investigation was made public, Paxton said in a statement that he knows "a little something about being falsely accused" and dismissed the allegations made by the whistleblowers as "overblown, based upon assumptions, and to a large degree misrepresent the facts."
Paxton has been under indictment for more than five years on securities fraud charges but has yet to stand trial. He has dismissed the charges as politically motivated and entered a not guilty plea.
Neither a campaign spokesperson for Paxton nor a defense attorney who is working on his long-running securities fraud case returned a request for comment about the FBI probe Tuesday. A spokesperson for the FBI declined to comment.
The full scope of Paxton's relationship with Paul remains unclear, though Paul has characterized it as friendly. In a deposition earlier this month, Paul revealed that he had employed a woman at Paxton's recommendation, though he said it was not a favor to Paxton. The woman had been involved in an extramarital affair with Paxton, according to two people who said the attorney general told them of the relationship in 2018.
Since the allegations surfaced last month, four examples have emerged of Paxton using his 4,000-employee agency to benefit Paul.
The whistleblowers allege Paxton tried to help Paul on a pair of open-records disputes, urging state employees to release documents that should have been confidential, and that Paxton rushed a legal opinion on foreclosure sales during the coronavirus pandemic, which helped Paul avoid such sales on several of his properties.
The attorney general's office — at Paxton's direction, the whistleblowers say — also took the highly unusual step of intervening in a lawsuit between Paul and an Austin-area charity.
And in September, Paxton hired an outside attorney to evaluate a complaint by Paul that he had been mistreated during an FBI raid on his property in 2019. Paxton's staff, the whistleblowers say, had already vetted the allegations and found them meritless, but Paxton continued to push the investigation.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
People want 𝘨𝘰𝘰𝘥 work.
— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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