A civil war inside Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office intensified Thursday when top lieutenants for the second time — and in greater detail — accused Paxton of giving improper preferential treatment to an Austin developer who was under federal investigation.
In a letter sent to Paxton on Wednesday and made public Thursday, five agency executives rebuked Paxton for hiring an outside lawyer to investigate businessman Nate Paul’s allegations of misconduct by federal authorities.
Agency lawyers had previously investigated the claims and found them to be baseless, the letter said.
“In any other instance, such an investigation would have promptly ended,” the letter stated. “Here, you circumvented our office’s long established outside counsel approval process, over the objections of the executive staff, to engage Mr. Cammack.”
Paxton’s appointment of Brandon Cammack — a Houston lawyer who has been practicing law for five years — raised concerns among aides that Paxton was acting on behalf of Paul, who in 2018 contributed $25,000 to Paxton’s reelection campaign.
The letter states that Cammack sought and obtained grand jury subpoenas that had nothing to do with the allegations Paul made against the federal investigators, but instead seemed to be “related to private business concerns of Nate Paul.”
Last week, seven top executives accused Paxton of possible crimes, including bribery and misuse of office, and asked that his dealings with Paul be investigated. Five of those executives signed the Wednesday letter.
Paul, in a complaint sent this spring to the Travis County district attorney’s office, accused federal agents of searching his residence and offices in August 2019 without obtaining lawful warrants. He also said they disabled the Wi-Fi and a camera system at his home.
Believing they lacked the resources to investigate Paul’s complaint, the district attorney’s office asked Paxton’s agency to investigate.
Paxton has said that, because he knew Paul, he turned the investigation over to Cammack to act as an outside independent counsel.
Paxton has not said whether his office had previously investigated the Paul complaint. Wednesday’s letter, however, said the agency had already looked into the allegations and decided they “lacked any good-faith factual basis.”
The letter was signed by Paxton deputies Ryan Bangert, Blake Brickman, Lacey Mase, Darren McCarty and Ryan Vassar — all of whom also signed last week’s letter that revealed inner agency concerns about Paxton’s actions.
Wednesday’s letter also went to First Assistant Brent Webster, Paxton’s new second in command to replace Jeff Mateer, who resigned last week after accusing Paxton of wrongdoing in his dealings with Paul.
Two agency leaders who looked into Paul’s complaints have been placed on investigative leave: Deputy Attorney General Mark Penley, who sent Cammack two cease-and-desist letters stating that he lacked the authority under state law to investigate the matter, and director of law enforcement David Maxwell.
The letter stated: “Despite their absence and inability to act, we feel compelled to send this communication to ensure there is no confusion: this office’s continued use of the criminal process, in a matter already determined to be without merit, to benefit the personal interests of Nate Paul, is unconscionable.”
In a statement also released Thursday, Paul’s lawyer, Michael Wynne, accused Paxton’s aides of interfering with the investigation “followed by retaliatory and unfounded allegations aimed at impeding a fair investigation of his complaint. These events should be alarming to every Texan and every person who values their constitutional rights.”
Cammack began his investigation last month after signing a contract with the attorney general’s office — Paxton also signed it — to serve as outside counsel.
An expense invoice submitted by the lawyer and obtained by the American-Statesman sheds light on his work.
The invoice lists time spent interviewing witnesses, a 16-minute phone call Cammack had with Paxton on Sept. 6, and time spent drafting subpoenas for phone records and emails. He reported more than 46 billable hours and charged the state $14,025.
Cammack also requested a $180 reimbursement for a hotel stay in Austin on Sept. 27.
Under the contract, Cammack was to be paid $300 an hour, capped at $25,000. The contract also bars Cammack from participating in media events or articles about the work as outside counsel without prior written approval from the agency.
Once Cammack’s investigation is complete, Paxton said this week, it will be up to Travis County prosecutors to review the results and determine if any criminal charges should be pursued.
Cammack’s investigation, however, hit a snag when a Travis County judge last Friday voided 37 subpoenas the lawyer had intended to use to secure evidence.
Cammack told The Dallas Morning News this week that he continues to work on the investigation and is trying to reissue the subpoenas. Cammack’s contract runs through Aug. 31, 2021.