Good morning Austin:
Rick Perry, the last statewide official to be indicted – just very slightly shy of a year ago – set an impossibly high bar for the panache he bought to the booking process. The incomparably beautiful, confident mug shot. The post-booking summer treat of a carefree custard at Sandy’s.
So pity Ken Paxton, the attorney general of the state of Texas, as he faced his own booking gantlet, but whose style, such as it is, is panache-free.
Paxton’s style is more shambling everyman.
Here is his mug shot:
(note: it is usual for the left side of the face to look different from the right side, but it seems to me Paxton’s left and right sides are exceptionally different.)
News of Paxton’s indictment came over the weekend, and also missing, so far, has been an outpouring of public statements from Paxton’s fellow statewide elected officials – Republicans all – or other name Republicans, rushing to his defense, though maybe that is yet to come.
In the meantime, I spoke last night with Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, a close friend and political ally of Paxton. Here is our exchange:
So in The New York Times on Saturday you can read about the sealed indictment, but the guy who has been accused still doesn’t know what the charges are. It’s pretty bad
Apparently this prosecutor, Kent Schaffer, has released all this information to them that is supposed to be in a sealed indictment, so you really have to question how one can get a fair trial when the prosecutor is releasing information to the media before the first court hearing.
It seems to me these special prosecutors have an interest in dragging this out, building their own name ID and also running the meter. This case goes forward, it goes to trial, the longer it goes the better for them, they get billings for it and they got the taxpayer’s guaranteed ATM paying for them.
This could have been referred to another district attorney in a neighboring county or even elsewhere in Texas, who’s already being paid to do it, where the infrastructure that is already there. Not only would that have saved the taxpayers money, but an existing district attorney has procedures and policies in place to keep things like this from happening, talking to the media about a sealed indictment.
FR: Paxton is a conspicuously poor speaker. He doesn’t have a very dynamic presence. What is the secret of his appeal?
When Ken speaks to a group of people there is a real connection, and I’ve seen it many, many times. He and I have spent a lot of time together, we’ve campaigned together and when Ken meets someone or when he addresses a group, people feel a real connection to him. They know he’s genuine and people perceive that he’s a fighter and obviously, even in his short time as attorney general, we’ve seen that, you know dealing with federal government – or I should say fighting back against the federal government – environmental overreach, obviously on the Supreme Court decision redefining marriage. I think people sense Ken is real. He means what he says. And they can trust him.
FR: How much of tea party loyalty for Paxton dates back to his willingness to challenge Joe Straus for speaker in 2011, though he withdrew before his name was placed in nomination.
Yes, 2010 was the first midterm election after President Obama was elected, a big tea party wave swept almost a two-thirds majority of Republican into the Texas House and you had all these people who were getting involved for the first time and they were succeeding, they were electing like-minded people, so when Ken took that position and filed to run for speaker, people noticed that.
I was going to give the closing argument. I was on deck to do that.
FR: How did you get to know Paxton:
We met during the campaign in 2002. In 2002, Ken was elected in a new Collin County district and his race was in the primary. In Collin County once you won the Republican primary you were in. My race was in the fall. I was in a swing district at the time, so I didn’t have a primary opponent but I had a Democratic opponent.
We met, had a lot of mutual friends, the same groups and conservative leaders were backing both of us and so we figured out we were pretty like-minded so that led us to becoming friends and rooming together. We roomed together every session but one, different apartments each time.
Believe it or not our first session, 2003, Ken Paxton, Bryan Hughes, Byron Cook. The three of us, our first session. We all came in together. There were 37 of us in that class. Dan Branch was in that class, so was Glenn Hegar. Big class. Big group.
FR: Speaking of Cook, there’s this from the New York Times story:
The most serious charges, first-degree securities fraud, Mr. Paxton is accused of misleading investors in a technology company, Servergy Inc., which is based in McKinney, his hometown. He is accused of encouraging the investors in 2011 to put more than $600,000 into Servergy while failing to tell them he was making a commission on their investment, and misrepresenting himself as an investor in the company, said Kent A. Schaffer, one of the two special prosecutors handling the case. The group of investors were Mr. Paxton’s friends and included a colleague in the Texas House, Representative Byron Cook.
I read that in that New York Times article. That was interesting.
(FR note: I suspect for many Paxton fans, bilking Cook would only make them love him more.)
FR: What are you hearing from folks in your district about the indictment?
The people who have talked to me chalked it up to politics. They see it as a politically driven attack on Ken, which is what it is. I think the reason we haven’t seen a lot of public comment on it from other officeholders is, again, we don’t know what the charges are.
FR: Paxton signed a confession to the State Securities Board last year, resulting in a reprimand and a $1,000 administrative fine. Was that process political, or is it the subsequent criminal prosecution that smacks of politics?
Certainly pursuing it beyond (the civil penalty.) From what I’ve read, once the Securities Board issues a civil penalty like that, that’s the end of the matter. A criminal prosecution like this doesn’t follow. From what I’ve read this is unprecedented. So yes, I would say pursuing it, trying to make something else out of it, I think that’s what people see as politics.
From what I’ve read, and from what I understand reading the documents, this was a clerical matter, the Securities Board dealt with it – a civil fine. That says a lot, sort of suggests that it is not a criminal violation.
And for what it’s worth, you’ll recall that was the spring of 2014, it came up and Ken’s opponents in the primary went to great lengths to use that to beat him over the head with that, and you’ll see how the voters responded. They gave Ken a resounding victory in the primary and in the fall.
FR: All of the statewides are pretty like-minded. Why would Paxton be a particular target?
I think we’d have to say that Ken has been out front, he’s taken the lead, and when you’re out front you’re going to get shot at.“
FR: As someone close to Paxton, this must be painful to watch unfold.
Ken is a friend and he is squeaky clean. Yes, it’s really troubling to see him drug through this. We’re thankful for the Constitution and the American justice system and he’s going to be vindicated, but you can ask Tom DeLay or Rick Perry, who’s still got one left to deal with, it can be along and expensive process, but Ken is going to be vindicated. Ken is squeaky clean, he’s a straight shooter. I hate that he has to go through this but I’m confident that he’s going to come out on top.
ON THE OTHER HAND
Meanwhile, here is a somewhat (very) different take on all this from Glenn Smith, a longtime Democratic operative and director of the Progress Texas PAC.
I think there’s plenty more to look at going forward.
There are a lot of curious questions about this. He publicly admits to a felony during the 2014 campaign.
(note: Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm to WFAA: “The Securities Board was very clear this was no crime.It was resolved last spring. It was a civil event. It was a $1,000 fine. And we are only here because of liberal activists.”)
Why didn’t anybody (on the Republican ticket) do anything. They just ignored it
Dan Branch tried not to ignore it but he couldn’t get the attention.
It was just like they were going to give him a pass and I think that needs to be explored. I’m talking about how the law required the Securities Board to refer it to a DA and/or the attorney general. (Governor, then Attorney General Greg) Abbott can’t say he didn’t know anything about it because the confession, as it were, was signed and made public. There are just a lot of questions that have not been answered.
Republicans have to be a little bit hesitant about rushing to his defense because he has confessed to one of the felonies and these other two serious first degree felonies, we don’t know what they are.
It’s different than Perry. One you don’t have a Rosemary Lehmberg to run against and, two, they don’t have $2 million to spend on a public relations campaign.
So he can’t fight back (in the same way.) And three, this was the Texas Rangers and Collin County so he can’t claim a political with hunt. So I think you are going to find Republicans are going to be more standoffish because it looks worse and it’s coming at the beginning of his term. And I think their silence speaks volumes.
If he’s forced to resign it’s going to be Republicans forcing him out. Remember there’s still a federal investigation underway.
Honestly, I think he has to talk to the press. Now that he’s indicted, it’s just going to look terrible if he did what he did during the campaign and hide from the press.
I don’t think you can be the attorney general of Texas and completely hide from the press while you’re under indictment. I just don’t think he can disappear. He can try it but it’s going to hurt him in the short and the long term.
He can’t spend campaign funds on his legal defense because his crimes were personal crimes and didn’t involve in any ways his office, but isn’t it a weird thing that he could have a legal defense and raise money for it and how contributors to it might gain influence to the attorney general’s office?
He needs to stay in office to be able to raise money for his defense fund.