In the fall of 2020, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton faced a mutiny. Seven high-ranking staffers suspected that the state’s chief law-enforcement officer was using the powers of his office to benefit an Austin real-estate developer named Nate Paul, who had given generously to the Republican’s reelection campaign. The staffers put their concerns in writing, shared them with the FBI, and asked for a meeting with their boss, a major Trump ally. Paxton fired four of them instead (the rest resigned), and issued a statement through his office stating that he was being targeted by “rogue employees.” In response, they filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. The lawsuit and the whistleblower complaint they shared with the FBI described a pattern of truly bizarre behavior on the part of one of the most powerful lawyers in America. As I reported in a profile of Paxton :
Citing Paxton’s “frantic” and “obsessive” activity, his penchant for cycling through personal “burner” phones, and his closeness with Paul, they feared that Paxton was performing his duties “under duress.” In the wrongful termination lawsuit, they speculated that the moves might have been “an effort to repay Paul” for a $25,000 donation to Paxton’s reelection campaign. Their most intriguing theory was one that cut at the core of the Paxtons’ power-couple brand: Sometime in 2019 or 2020, they stated, Paxton had admitted that he’d had an extramarital affair with a former aide to a Republican state senator—and Paul had subsequently given the aide a job. (In a deposition in late 2020 as part of the ongoing litigation with the charity, Paul confirmed that Paxton had recommended the woman.) The whistleblowers “reasonably concluded,” they stated in their lawsuit, that Paxton’s desperate need to cover up the alleged affair might explain his behavior.
The lawsuit was filed more than two years ago. The case dragged on, with Paxton’s lawyers arguing that the whistleblower law didn’t apply to the office of the attorney general. Paxton’s office released its own investigation purporting to exonerate him of any wrongdoing. But on Friday, Paxton announced a settlement: although he would not admit any wrongdoing, he would delete the press release in which he smeared the staffers as “rogue employees,” and the plaintiffs would receive $3.3 million. Per Paxton’s statement:
After over two years of litigating with four ex-staffers who accused me in October 2020 of ‘potential’ wrongdoing, I have reached a settlement agreement to put this issue to rest. I have chosen this path to save taxpayer dollars and ensure my third term as Attorney General is unburdened by unnecessary distractions. This settlement achieves these goals. I look forward to serving the People of Texas for the next four years free from this unfortunate sideshow.
Here’s the kicker, though: The damages won’t be paid out by Ken Paxton; they’re supposed to be paid from state funds, which means that the settlement will have to be approved by the legislature. As the Texas Tribune notes, that’s not necessarily as straightforward as it sounds:
After the tentative agreement was made public, state Rep. Jeff Leach, the Republican from Plano who oversees the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee, said he was “troubled that hardworking taxpayers might be on the hook for this settlement between the Attorney General and former employees of his office.”
This is a good outcome for the ex-staffers, of course, who get back pay and an apology. But it’s also a pretty good outcome for Ken Paxton, considering the position he was in two years ago, when he was facing allegations of corruption and an affair, with the FBI reportedly investigating, and a felony securities-fraud indictment hanging over his head. America’s most MAGA attorney general has since won reelection by defeating a well-funded statewide official who happened to be George W. Bush’s nephew, and he’s now offloaded the costs of his legal battle to taxpayers. The FBI doesn’t exactly publish running updates of its investigations, but the DOJ has not produced any charges against Paxton. As for that securities fraud indictment? Well, it’ll turn eight years old in July.