In November of 2020, four whistleblowers who worked for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit alleging whistleblower retaliation after raising concerns of alleged misconduct in the office. The group of whistleblowers are speaking out again about recent comments Paxton has made while on the campaign trail for re-election.
The four whistleblowers are all former employees of Paxton’s office: Mark Penley worked as the deputy attorney general for criminal justice, David Maxwell was the agency’s former director of law enforcement, Blake Brickman served as the deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives, and Ryan Vassar was the deputy attorney general for legal counsel. Brickman was fired in October 2020, Maxwell and Penley were fired in early November 2020, and Vassar was fired later in the same month. Senior aide Lacey Mase was also fired from the office in October of 2020.
The group of four whistleblowers allege in their 2020 lawsuit filed under the Texas Whistleblower Act that they experienced whistleblower retaliation after reporting Paxton to law enforcement in early October 2020. The whistleblowers alleged that Paxton “had broken the law by using the agency to serve the interests of a political donor and friend, Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor,” an article from The Texas Tribune reported. The whistleblowers alleged that Paxton conducted several favors for Paul, and in the lawsuit, they claimed that Paxton “became less rational in his decision making and more unwilling to listen to reasonable objections to his instructions, and placed increasing, unusual priority on matters involving Paul,” the article states. The Associated Press reported on November 17, 2020, that the FBI was investigating Paxton’s actions.
On February 12, 2021, the whistleblowers amended their lawsuit and included new allegations about Paxton’s conduct. According to an article in the Austin-American Statesman, the whistleblowers claimed in the amended lawsuit that they possessed “information suggesting that Nate Paul, either personally or through a construction company he owns and controls,” had involvement “in a major renovation project in 2020 at Paxton’s million-dollar home.” The article reported: “These alleged actions serve as another example of claims that Paxton has engaged in misconduct and illegal treatment with Paul, who donated $25,000 to the Paxton campaign in October 2018.”
Paxton has consistently denied the whistleblowers’ allegations, at the time dubbing the whistleblowers “rogue employees” and the claims “false,” according to The Texas Tribune.
Comments on the Campaign Trail
The Paxton whistleblowers are speaking out again in 2022, the first time since they filed the lawsuit. According to a February 21 article in The Texas Tribune, Brickman, Penley, Vassar, and Maxwell released a joint statement addressing recent comments Paxton has made about the case. “Our preference was to remain silent while the wheels of justice turned, and our civil case progressed in the courts,” the joint statement reads. “However, in recent weeks, Paxton has made numerous false and misleading public statements that we feel obligated to correct.”
Numerous claims that the whistleblowers’ joint statement deems false stem from an interview Paxton did on January 31 with Mark Davis, a conservative radio host, according to the article. “In the interview, Paxton claimed the whistleblowers ‘didn’t come to him’ and ‘didn’t explain’ the issues they had with the behavior that led to their complaints,” the article states. Additionally, in an interview this month, “Paxton claimed the FBI had ‘infiltrated’ his office to investigate him before the whistleblowers made their complaint.”
In their statement, the whistleblowers write that “they approached Paxton multiple times about their concerns with his push to get involved in Paul’s affairs before reporting him to the FBI.” The article notes that the lawsuit “details specific dates when the whistleblowers individually and as a group warned Paxton that his actions in legal matters related to Paul were unlawful.” The group of whistleblowers also emphasized that they “had no previous contact with the FBI” before they first reported their concerns to the agency on September 30, 2020.
Additionally, the whistleblowers “blasted Paxton for accusing them of committing crimes in the Davis interview, calling his accusations ‘ridiculous,’” the article states. “We confronted Ken Paxton about his and his agency’s corrupt and criminal conduct, and, when he would not abide by the law, we reported him to the FBI,” the whistleblowers’ statement reads. “Paxton is under criminal investigation, not the whistleblowers.”
The Texas Tribune reports that Paxton said in the February interview “that he still does not know the specific allegations against him.” But the whistleblowers say that the allegations they have levied against Paxton “are clearly spelled out in their lawsuit and include bribery, tampering with government records, obstruction of justice, harassment and abuse of office.”
Paxton is running for reelection, and election day is March 1. According to the article, campaign spokesperson Kimberly Hubbard “called the whistleblowers’ statement a political ploy to harm him during early voting.”
Paxton himself responded to the whistleblowers’ claims a day later. “I’ve said from the very beginning these are false. They have no specific allegations,” Paxton said, according to an ABC6 article. “This was a political takeover, and they failed and they’re frustrated,” said Paxton. “They’re trying to use the liberal media to take me out because obviously, I’m not a friend of the liberal media.”