AUSTIN — The outside lawyer Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tapped to look into a complaint from an Austin developer says he is still working on the investigation despite serious objections from Paxton’s top deputies.
In an interview with The Dallas Morning News on Tuesday, Brandon Cammack said Paxton had directed him to continue as a special prosecutor investigating a complaint that Travis County referred to the state agency in June.
While Cammack declined to reveal details of the inquiry, other officials have indicated the referral deals with a complaint by the real estate developer Nate Paul, whose business and home were raided by the FBI last summer.
Cammack said his contract was active and he was working to reissue subpoenas.
The inquiry continues despite an outcry from several of Paxton’s most senior employees, who said his relationship with Paul raises legal questions and who challenged Cammack’s authority to act as special counsel.
Paxton has said he has done nothing wrong in pursuing the complaint and pointed the finger back at his staffers, whom he accused of stymieing the investigation into Paul’s complaint.
The dispute has raised questions about Paxton’s relationship with Paul, who contributed $25,000 to Paxton’s reelection bid in 2018. Top Texas Republicans have called the revelations concerning, and a GOP congressman has said Paxton should resign.
Paxton, a second-term Republican, is refusing to step aside and this week installed a new first assistant to replace one of the whistleblowers, who resigned amid the turmoil.
Cammack, 34, a Houston criminal defense lawyer who has been in practice about five years, said he took the job because it was “an opportunity for me to do something different in my career.”
“I was excited to get started on it,” said Cammack, who said he was surprised by the protests from within Paxton’s office.
Paxton’s office did not respond to questions about Cammack’s continued work on the complaint, and it has not released records of any employment agreement.
A senior official in the office told The News on Tuesday that Cammack had not received formal approval to work for the agency as a special prosecutor.
Cammack told The News that Paxton had reached out by phone in August to gauge his interest in working as a special prosecutor for the agency. He said they had never spoken before. Cammack said the attorney general interviewed other candidates, including a former federal prosecutor, before Cammack signed a contract with the attorney general in early September.
Cammack declined to disclose his compensation or provide a copy of any employment agreement he has with the agency. He has not yet been paid for his work, state records indicate.
In a statement Monday, Paxton said the developer’s complaint deals with “allegations of crimes relating to the FBI, other government agencies and individuals.”
“Because employees from my office impeded the investigation and because I knew Nate Paul I ultimately decided to hire an outside independent prosecutor to make his own independent determination,” Paxton said in the statement.
Cammack has issued about 37 subpoenas and conducted interviews, but top employees in the agency challenged his work. Cammack said he received two cease-and-desist orders from senior attorneys at the agency starting Sept. 30.
Last week, Mark Penley, deputy attorney general for criminal justice, asked a judge in Travis County to quash the subpoenas, saying Cammack was not “properly authorized to act as a Special Prosecutor on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.”
On Friday, the judge agreed and quashed the subpoenas.
The next day, the Austin-American Statesman reported that Penley and six other senior employees had filed a complaint with the agency’s director of human resources alleging that Paxton “is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses.” Their concerns were related to Paxton’s “relationship and activities” with Paul, according to a text message obtained by The Houston Chronicle.
But Cammack told The News that after these criminal allegations became public, Paxton told him to continue his work. He said he was working to reissue all of the subpoenas.
Cammack said he had not presented evidence to a grand jury. Pushback from some top agency staffers surprised him, Cammack added, because they had been aware he was being considered for the job.
“It’s shocking to say the least,” Cammack said. “Mr. Paxton’s whole position the entire time was, ‘I want you to investigate this thing, find out what the truth is.’”
“My contract is still active,” he added.
The News requested a copy of any such contract, and the attorney general’s office has yet to provide one.
The extent of the relationship between Paxton and Paul is unknown. While Paxton acknowledges knowing the developer, he has not said how or when they met. A lawyer who has represented Paul did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Monday, several other Republican officials returned or gave to charities contributions that Paul had made to their campaigns. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, said that the accusations against Paxton were concerning but that they would wait to comment further. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a fellow Republican who once worked for Paxton, called Monday for Paxton to resign.
Paxton has repeatedly fought off allegations of criminal activity during his time in elective office.
Within months of taking over as the state’s top attorney in 2015, he was charged with two first-degree felonies for allegedly failing to disclose that he was being paid to persuade investors to buy stock in a North Texas technology company. He was also hit with a third-degree felony charge accusing him of failing to register with the state as an investment adviser representative.
Paxton remains under indictment today. His 2015 criminal cases have been delayed repeatedly and he has yet to face trial. If convicted, Paxton could face up to 99 years in prison.
Paxton has maintained his innocence in his securities fraud case and said the allegations were brought by a political adversary within his own party. In the past five years, Paxton has also fought off bribery allegations, avoided indictment for his role in a Collin County land deal and twice beaten federal civil securities fraud complaints.
He will be up for reelection in 2022.