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AG Paxton apparently made his office into a favor factory for a donor. He has to go | Opinion

Ken Paxton must go.

Details revealed Wednesday by a team of Texas House investigators paint a compelling case of what’s been suggested ever since some of his top aides turned on him: The attorney general used his office for political and personal gain, often to aid a high-profile donor.

Through interviews with four former Paxton lieutenants and a review of documents, complaints and other evidence, investigators found a pattern of criminal activity and ethical missteps. Testimony from at least 15 people implicated Paxton in wrongdoing.

While Paxton has reportedly been under federal investigation for years, it wasn’t until four former senior employees from his office sued and reached a settlement that the Legislature got involved. Paxton, who has steadily said he did nothing wrong in his dealings with “rogue” employees, reached a deal to pay the whistleblowers $3.3 million and asked the state to pay for it. House Speaker Dade Phelan called it a poor use of taxpayer dollars, and it didn’t appear likely to make the cut in the new state budget.

Investigators said Wednesday that Paxton’s wrongdoing appeared to include retaliation and official oppression, a misdemeanor, securities fraud and misuse of official information, both felonies, and abuse of official capacity.

Paxton’s relationship with donor Nick Paul was so steeped in his public office that Paxton often tasked office employees to help the developer, investigators found. Paul wanted Paxton’s help fighting a federal investigation of his businesses, and Paxton was more than willing to give it, the investigation found.

“General Paxton, in this instance, charged with protecting Texas charitable foundations, disregarded his duty and improperly used his office, his staff, his resources to the detriment” of a charitable foundation and to Paul’s benefit, investigator Terese Buess told the House General Investigating Committee.

Paul donated funds to Paxton and also, according to the lawsuit allegations from the whistleblowers, helped remodel some of Paxton’s homes. Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, have a homestead exemption on more than one property, investigators found. That’s a relatively minor violation, but remember it next time you pay your property taxes properly.

The relationship with Paul not only led to crimes and unethical discretions; it also contributed to a massive misuse of taxpayer dollars. Paxton’s unethical behavior has driven away the state’s best attorneys, so the office has been forced to hire outside lawyers at a cost of nearly $40 million.

Among the other disturbing allegations the investigators outlined: Paxton pushed to hire an inexperienced lawyer, recommended by Paul, to handle some of his office’s work on behalf of Paul, who was trying to avoid foreclosures on properties.

Paxton sold out the entire Office of the Attorney General for Paul. Not only is this a gross misuse of the office, to say the least, but it’s nowhere near close to the purpose of the office, which is the legal arm of the state handling everything from child support to consumer protection and criminal prosecutions. Paxton should be in over his head everyday attempting to utilize the office to serve Texas taxpayers; he shouldn’t have the time or wherewithal to hand out favors to a buddy.

Paxton’s ethical challenges predate his election as attorney general. He took office under the cloud of a securities-fraud investigation based on his failure to disclose information to investors. Through legal maneuvering, he has dodged trial on those charges.

The list of his missteps since is too long to exhaustively detail. The most egregious was his advocacy of Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election. Paxton disgraced Texas by asking the Supreme Court to let us intervene in election results in Pennsylvania and other states, a legal atrocity that the justices wisely rejected.

Most of that, however, was not criminal or abusive of his office. And like it or not, primary and statewide election voters returned Paxton, a McKinney Republican, to office again and again.

But now, the evidence of crimes detrimental to the state and its taxpayers appears overwhelming.

True to form, Paxton has resorted to politics to try to save himself. On Tuesday, he accused Phelan of presiding over the House while intoxicated, based on a snippet of inconclusive video.

But Paxton’s statement gave away his usual game: appealing to a small share of the Republican base to bail him out. He called Phelan out over conservative legislation not yet passed. It soon became clear that Paxton was merely trying to distract from the explosive investigation about to become public.

Paxton has been a stain on Texas for too long. He’s a poor reflection of conservative ideas and character befitting public office. We cannot wait for federal charges to force the matter.

Lawmakers must act, and Paxton must go.