The Republican who has served as Attorney General of Texas for three terms has been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the FBI. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has agreed to apologize and pay $3.3 million in taxpayer money to four former staffers who accused him of corruption in 2020.
In accordance with the terms of a preliminary lawsuit settlement that was filed on Friday, Paxton made no acknowledgment of culpability to accusations of bribery and abuse of power. These are allegations that he has consistently denied for years and has characterized as being politically motivated. But Paxton did say that he would make an extraordinary public apology to several of his former closest advisers, whom he had either fired or forced out of their jobs after they denounced him to the FBI.
After they accused Paxton of misusing his office to help one of his campaign contributors, who also employed a woman with whom the attorney general acknowledged having an extramarital affair, he referred to them as “rogue employees.” He said this after they accused Paxton of misusing his office to help one of his campaign contributors.
A short-term, mediated agreement was reached between the parties, and it was submitted to the Texas Supreme Court. This will be followed by a more extensive, legal settlement.
“Attorney General Ken Paxton accepts that plaintiffs acted in a manner that they thought was right and apologizes for referring to them as ‘rogue employees,’” the final settlement must state, according to court records.
In 2020, eight of Paxton’s top staff members took part in the strange revolt, and they either quit or were fired. The attorney general said that he settled with the four people who sued under Texas’ whistleblower law to end “this unfortunate sideshow.”
“I have chosen this path to save taxpayer dollars and ensure my third term as attorney general is unburdened by unnecessary distractions,” Paxton said in a statement.
The $3.3 million payout wouldn’t come from Paxton’s own money, but from state funds. This means that the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature would still have to agree to it.
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Settlement of the case, which Paxton’s office fought for years in court, means he won’t have to give a civil deposition while federal agents and prosecutors are still looking into corruption. In exchange, the attorney general’s office agreed to take down an October 2020 news release from its website that criticizes Paxton’s accusers and send the statement of regret to former employees David Maxwell, Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley, and James Blake Brickman.
“The whistleblowers sacrificed their jobs and have spent more than two years fighting for what is right,” said Maxwell’s lawyer, TJ Turner. Brickman was not part of the mediation with Paxton’s office but joined the settlement, attorney Tom Nesbitt said, after being asked to and negotiating “significant non-monetary terms.”
The settlement also says that Paxton can’t try to get an appeals court ruling that the state whistleblower law applies to the attorney general overturned in 2021. There are no rules in the agreement that limit the ability of Paxton’s accusers to speak out in public or help federal investigators.
The deal comes more than two years after Paxton’s staff accused him of abusing his power to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, whose business was also under federal investigation. The main accusation was that Paxton hired an outside lawyer to look into Paul’s claims that the FBI did something wrong.
Both Paxton and Paul have said they did nothing wrong, and neither has been charged with a federal crime.
In September, an investigation by the Associated Press found that Paxton’s agency has become unhinged as a result of the revolt. Experienced lawyers have quit because of what they say are practices that slant legal work, reward loyalists, and shut down dissent.
But the investigation, the accusations, and a separate 2015 indictment for securities fraud that Paxton hasn’t been tried for yet haven’t hurt him politically much. He easily beat George P. Bush in a GOP primary election last spring, went on to beat his Democratic opponent and win a third term in November, and has been filing lawsuits against Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration ever since.
Last month, when Republican Gov. Greg Abbott swore Paxton in for another four years on the job, he said that it was easy to keep supporting him during the midterm elections.
“I supported Ken Paxton because I thought the way he was running the attorney general’s office was the right way to run the attorney general’s office,” said Abbott.
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