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What’s a Little Abuse of Power Among Friends?

The suspicious backdrop for the Texas A.G.’s luridly seditious MAGA lawsuit.
December 11, 2020
What’s a Little Abuse of Power Among Friends?
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton with President Donald Trump in Dallas on June 11, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty)

Let it be known that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is not the most ethical person.

Which is probably why he agreed to be co-chair of Lawyers for Trump and had no qualms about filing a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court to cancel votes in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin to overthrow Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory and give Donald Trump four more years as president.

It wouldn’t be the first time Paxton has been accused of abusing his office to help a pal.

In October, seven of his senior lawyers, including his first assistant attorney general, signed a letter claiming they all had “a good faith belief that the Attorney General is violating federal and/or state law, including prohibitions relating to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery, and other potential criminal offenses.”

At issue are a number of official actions Paxton took to help out a wealthy real-estate developer friend and campaign donor, Nate Paul. Long story short, Paxton is accused of appointing a special prosecutor to target “adversaries” of Paul and taking unusual steps to intervene in a charity’s lawsuit against him. Why? One possible reason that has been presented: Paxton associates have told the press that Paul allegedly agreed to hire a former Paxton staffer with whom Paxton had had an affair. The FBI is currently investigating the whistleblowers’ allegations. And KVUE reported Thursday evening, hours after Paxton attended a private lunch with Trump, that federal authorities issued Paxton’s office a subpoena for records the previous day.

Paxton has denied any kind of pardon was discussed, but it’s hard to take that denial seriously. “From the [Supreme Court] brief, it looks like a fella begging for a pardon filed a PR stunt rather than a lawsuit,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, one of the few Republicans to come out criticizing Paxton this week. “All of its assertions have already been rejected by federal courts and Texas’s own solicitor general isn’t signing on.”

The FBI investigation isn’t Paxton’s only legal problem, though. He is also under indictment by the state for securities fraud, in an entirely separate case that has been curiously stalled in the courts for the last five years. And, if that ever goes forward, there’s no presidential pardon for state crimes.

Through it all, Paxton’s wife has remained firmly by his side. Which also comes with a dose of ethical drama. Angela Paxton is a state senator, elected in 2018. One of her first official acts was to file legislation that would decriminalize the very securities law her husband was arrested for breaking. To make it sound less obvious she sold it as a “consumer-protection” bill.

If Ken Paxton were a more imposing figure, his shenanigans could probably serve as inspiration for a new season of Billions. The big sticking point is, thanks to his SCOTUS filing for Trump, he’s now more well known for his exceptionally abysmal legal skills than his ethical lapses. Even more so than his wife for the exceptionally abysmal songs she sings, a cringeworthy marital accomplishment, indeed: Yeah, that’s her out on the campaign trail, strumming a guitar and twanging a little tune she wrote about how “I’m a pistol-packin’ momma, and my husband sues Obama.”

I'm a pistol packin mama and my husband sues Obama song

Not even the Veep writers would make Selina Meyer suffer through that kind of humiliation. Yet this is the stuff real politics is made of, where nothing is ever as smart, sleek, and steamy as it is on Netflix, but dumber than screenwriters could ever imagine.

Paxton’s lawsuit is so bad that Texas’s solicitor general—the official who would normally argue such cases before the Supreme Court, and who was appointed by Paxton—has refused to have anything to do with it. Similarly, Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy, who previously served as a top aide to Paxton and chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz, wrote “I believe the case itself represents a dangerous violation of federalism & sets a precedent to have one state asking federal courts to police the voting procedures of other states.” This isn’t Roy’s first time calling out Paxton; he also called for Paxton to resign in October when Paxton’s aides went public with their complaints.

Still, 18 GOP attorneys general and 106 Republican members of Congress are going along with Paxton’s nonsensical bid to nullify votes in four states that didn’t go for Trump.

Some of them may actually believe in the president’s election conspiracies. But, most are probably just playing along with Trump’s seditious delusions because they see no downside in engaging in some constitutional crisis kayfabe.

On Monday, Sen. Cruz agreed to argue another of the ridiculous and anti-democratic lawsuits lobbed into the lap of the Supreme Court. The Court tossed away that lawsuit like a hot potato, as everyone expected it would—which is probably why Cruz agreed to argue the case in the first place. It’s like offering your kidney to a sick friend whom you secretly know isn’t a blood match. You look like a hero while fully confident it would never functionally work out anyway.

Maybe that also explains why Paxton filed his lawsuit. Maybe he thinks of it as mere legal lip service for a friend, not a serious case that will lead to anything actionable.

The rotten thing is that Paxton, and all the state attorneys general and members of Congress who signed the amicus briefs, are all abusing their offices to do it, which is its own low form of corruption.

Because sleaze isn’t always about indictments and crimes, although Paxton is well acquainted with those. There’s plenty of perfectly legal soft deceits in plain sight.

Like the basic act of enlisting government lawyers to make a bogus case to overturn an election, whether or not it’s in hopes of snagging a presidential pardon. Or, using taxpayer-funded staff to pump out press releases supporting the whole farce, to make it seem legit.

These are all official acts done for the purpose of currying favor with someone—Trump. No one is going to go to jail for it, but it sure is gross.

That kind of crooked thinking is why Paxton may one day find himself on trial, rather than fulfilling Trump’s lurid MAGA fantasy of dragging the states of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin to the Supreme Court.

One has to wonder why so many Republicans think he’s a good person to take any kind of legal advice from.

Amanda Carpenter

Amanda Carpenter is an author, a former communications director to Sen. Ted Cruz, and a former speechwriter to Sen. Jim DeMint. She was formerly a Bulwark political columnist.