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Texas AG Ken Paxton accused of breaking law (yes, again)

Just when it seemed things couldn't get worse for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, he's been accused of breaking yet another law.
Image: Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during a press conference in Austin, Texas, on May 1, 2018.Nick Wagner / Austin American-Statesman via AP file

If there were a competition for the most scandal-plagued elected official in the United States, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton would likely be leading the pack — which made it all the more extraordinary when the Republican's troubles managed to get worse last week.

Paxton was already under indictment on felony securities fraud charges when, in October 2020, members of his own team made multiple criminal allegations against him. About a year ago, FBI agents arrived at Paxton's door — as a rule, that's not a good sign for any politician — and soon after, the Texas bar association launched an investigation into Paxton's alleged professional misconduct.

Paxton nevertheless announced that he's running for a third term. Donald Trump, whose tolerance of corruption has few rivals, has endorsed the state attorney general. (Paxton chaired Lawyers for Trump during the 2020 campaign.)

Indeed, the Texas Republican's work in support of the former president opened a whole new chapter in Paxton-related scandals. It was, after all, the Lone Star State's attorney general who tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to help overturn Trump's defeat in December 2020.

Soon after, Paxton was in the nation's capital, which as The Texas Tribune reported, has become the basis for yet another controversy.

The Travis County district attorney on Thursday found that Attorney General Ken Paxton violated the state's open records law by not turning over his communications from last January when he visited Washington, D.C., for a pro-Trump rally that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In this case, editors at Texas' five largest newspapers argued several months ago that under the state's open-records law, Paxton was required to disclose materials — including emails and texts — related to his January 2021 trip to D.C. The state attorney general ignored the journalists' request, so they went to local law enforcement.

The Texas Tribune report added that Jackie Wood, the director of public integrity and complex crimes at the Travis County District Attorney's Office, concluded that Paxton had, in fact, broken the state open-records law and "hand-delivered her ruling in a letter to Paxton's office."

In case this isn't obvious, Paxton wasn't just some random tourist in the nation's capital early last year. On the contrary, the Texas Republican was literally one of the speakers at Trump's pre-riot rally. It's one of the reasons the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack has taken an interest in Paxton's efforts.

The Washington Post's Greg Sargent helped explain how outlandish the circumstances are.

What makes this so remarkable is that the office of Paxton, as attorney general, is supposed to be the party enforcing this open records law. But Texas law also offers the option of going to the Travis County prosecutor to allege that a state agency (in this case, Paxton's) is in violation. That's what happened here. Underscoring the absurdity of this, one transparency expert told the Houston Chronicle that he could not recall another example of an attorney general being accused of violating the law to keep his own communications out of the public eye.

If Paxton ignores the Travis County District Attorney's Office's findings, it's prepared to sue the state attorney general. Watch this space.