Zach Despart

Ken Paxton’s prosecutors stumbled at times — but did it matter in the GOP-dominated Senate?

By any measure, the House impeachment managers’ prosecution of Attorney General Ken Paxton fell well short of perfect.

The star-studded lineup led by trial lawyers Rusty Hardin and Dick DeGuerin struggled at times with the trial’s time limits while tying together all the threads of a complex case and providing enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Paxton misused his power and needed to be ousted from office.

[Ken Paxton was acquitted. See how each Senator voted.]

In the end, senators acquitted Paxton on all 16 articles of impeachment, a thorough shellacking for a House team that had spent three months carefully building its case. The most votes any article received was 14, well short of the 21 required for conviction. And only two of 19 Republicans, Sens. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville and Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, voted in favor of conviction for any article.

There was, however, little House managers could do to avoid that outcome in the polarized political climate in Texas, political scientists and trial lawyers said.

The House lawyers and impeachment managers faced the extremely difficult task of convincing the majority of Republican senators to vote against their own political self-interest because Paxton retained significant support among conservative voters, said Thomas Cullee Mayes Jr., a San Antonio trial lawyer.

“Now that we’ve watched the entire trial, it’s very difficult to envision a scenario where the House lawyers, with the evidence they had, could have convinced nine Republican senators to convict,” Mayes said.

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said senators appeared resentful that the House had impeached Paxton, forcing them to take public votes on whether to convict him — a divisive issue for the Republican base.

He also faulted the House for a presentation of evidence and witness testimony that at times was disorganized and slow-paced. He praised lead defense lawyer Tony Buzbee, a superstar plaintiff's attorney in his own right, for ably arguing that the House had not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“I think it was a jump ball for a dozen Republican senators, and somehow they concluded that their interest was better served by voting to acquit,” Jillson said. “What you have is a demonstration of morbid partisanship, because you have all 12 Democrats and two lost Republicans against 16 Republicans that all hung together.”

Mayes likewise commended Buzbee’s performance and said House lawyer Erin Epley was the only House attorney able to go toe-to-toe with him. Though the political realities were what they were, Mayes said, the House should have deployed Epley earlier in the nine-day trial instead of Hardin.

The leaders of the House managers, Reps. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, and Ann Johnson, D-Houston, hinted at this dynamic in speaking with reporters after Saturday’s verdict. Murr said there was a “challenging threshold” to meet in what was functionally a political trial.

“We did our duty to bring the evidence into the sunlight through this impeachment process,” he said. “This trial painted an accurate and clear picture of an out-of-control attorney general who refused to listen to the desperate warnings of his conservative lawyers that he had entrusted to help run his office. … Mr. Paxton has still never explained why he was so determined to help one person, Nate Paul, over the desperate warnings of his most trusted aides.”

Johnson had particular criticism for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who served as the trial's judge and afterward castigated the House for impeaching Paxton, saying a trial could have been avoided if House leaders had taken a more careful approach to examining the allegations.

Asked whether she thought Patrick sought to inappropriately influence the vote, Johnson responded that Patrick “did seem to have prepared notes ready to attack members of the House and the House process.”

Hardin said several of Patrick’s rulings had handcuffed the House managers’ ability to present their case, including barring testimony from Laura Olson, Paxton’s alleged paramour, after she indicated her intention to assert her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Regardless of Patrick’s role in the proceedings, the safest option for Republican senators was to acquit Paxton, said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones. Their greatest consideration, in districts drawn to ensure that Democrats have little chance of winning, is how their decisions will play in hyper-partisan Republican primaries.

“At the end of the day, this was a political decision by the Senate made more as a collective,” Jones said. “That’s what the most active members of the Republican primary electorate wanted to see, and in Texas, power continues to run through that primary in the spring rather than the general election in November.”

Patrick Svitek, Robert Downen and Kate McGee contributed reporting.

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Ken Paxton’s top deputy — the first impeachment witness — describes a boss out of control

At the end of September 2020, it finally made sense to Jeff Mateer why his boss, Attorney General Ken Paxton, was devoting so much of the agency’s attention to Paxton’s friend, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.

In Wednesday testimony that took up most of the second day of Paxton’s impeachment trial, Mateer said that for months he could not figure out why Paxton had brushed off repeated warnings that assisting Paul in his business disputes was an improper use of state resources.

And then, as the office was erupting in crisis when senior deputies learned that Paxton had quietly hired an outside lawyer to conduct an investigation on Paul’s behalf, Mateer said he learned something else. Paul had hired the woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair, allowing her to move to Austin, where the attorney general could more easily visit her.

“It answered the question, why is he engaging in all these activities … on behalf of Mr. Paul?” Mateer testified. “It seemed to be he was under undue influence. At times, I wondered: Is he being blackmailed?”

In more than six hours of testimony, Mateer — the first witness called by the House impeachment managers — detailed his growing concerns through the summer and fall of 2020 about Paxton’s relationship with Paul, culminating in Mateer’s decision to join other senior advisers in reporting the attorney general’s behavior to the FBI on Sept. 30.

“I concluded that Mr. Paxton was engaged in conduct that was immoral, unethical, and I had the good faith belief that it was illegal,” Mateer testified.

Paxton’s lawyer attempted to cast Mateer as a rogue employee and disloyal friend of Paxton, arguing that the former first assistant jumped to conclusions about impropriety based on incomplete and inaccurate information. Attorney Tony Buzbee also accused Mateer of leading an attempted coup against Paxton.

But as Paxton has cast the impeachment as a persecution led by Democrats and liberal Republicans, Mateer presented a problem. He is an evangelical Christian and champion of religious liberty whose hiring by Paxton was praised by conservatives. And unlike four other senior deputies who filed a whistleblower lawsuit and later negotiated a proposed $3.3 million settlement — prompting Paxton’s camp to suggest they had a financial motivation for their allegations — Mateer simply quit within days of meeting with FBI agents in 2020.

Paxton on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to 16 articles of impeachment. The bulk of the House’s case centers on allegations that Paxton misused the power of the attorney general’s office to harass Paul’s perceived enemies, including business rivals, judges and law enforcement officials.

As expected, the attorney general’s affair with Laura Olson, the former Senate aide Buzbee identified by name during the trial, took center stage in the trial.

Mateer exhibited a pained expression when asked about the relationship, as Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, sat about 30 feet away — present for the trial but barred from deliberating or voting by Senate rules. Prodded by impeachment lawyer Rusty Hardin, Mateer said the affair was the missing piece that explained the bizarre behavior Paxton had exhibited in asking his senior deputies to help Paul.

Mateer added that he was present for a 2018 meeting in which Paxton, joined by his wife, admitted to the extramarital affair but said it was over and that he had recommitted to his marriage.

“Mr. Paxton apologized and, using Christian terminology, I would say he repented,” Mateer said. “I assumed it was over because that’s what he said.”

Sen. Paxton, at her desk, took notes as Mateer spoke. She has maintained a bright disposition during the trial, chatting with colleagues during breaks and waving to supporters in the gallery.

Mateer’s appearance was widely anticipated due to his position as Paxton’s most senior deputy and because he has said little publicly in the nearly three years since he resigned his post in October 2020.

Yet it was initially unclear if Mateer’s testimony would live up to its top billing when it began late Tuesday afternoon. Hardin, a genteel lawyer for the House managers, meandered while asking Mateer about his background, leaving senators to wonder when, if ever, he would get to the point.

Wednesday offered a reset. Hardin, normally loquacious, buckled down. He led Mateer through the summer of 2020, asking him to explain his growing discomfort with Paxton’s actions.

Mateer said he first knew little about Paul but was concerned when Paxton wished to personally argue a court motion in a case involving a charity that had sued two of Paul’s businesses. He said his consternation grew when Paxton directed the office to issue a legal opinion limiting foreclosure sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were at the forefront of having Texas reopen and to stop COVID restrictions. … We were the ones pushing to have Texas open up,” Mateer said. “The opinion took the complete opposite view.”

Impeachment managers allege that Paul used the opinion to delay the foreclosure sale of several properties.

Mateer also said Paxton repeatedly pressured him to approve the hiring of an outside lawyer to investigate claims made by Paul. The former top deputy recalled that Paxton called him late on Sept. 28 and was “very upset” with Mateer’s refusal to support the hiring, adding that Paxton’s demeanor led him to believe he had been drinking.

Mateer said the next day, he and other senior officials realized that the outside lawyer, Brandon Cammack, had in fact started working for the office weeks earlier, without their knowledge. They also discovered Cammack had issued subpoenas to banks that had lent money to Paul’s businesses.

“We considered it sort of a crisis moment,” Mateer said. “Everything regarding Mr. Paul was coming to a head.”

Another senior official then rushed to court and persuaded the judge to throw out the subpoenas, arguing Cammack had no power to issue them.

Buzbee attempts to discredit Mateer

For the cross-examination, Buzbee’s rapid-fire, quick-pivot questioning of Mateer was in stark contrast to Hardin’s chronological questioning that bordered on tedious. Instead of offering a counter-narrative to the House’s version of events, Buzbee sought to discredit Mateer and land punches where he could.

He homed in on a theme of Mateer as a misguided employee and friend who should have taken his concerns directly to Paxton instead of going behind his back to report him to law enforcement. He challenged Mateer’s contention that he and other senior deputies were attempting to protect the attorney general from himself.

“In order to protect Ken Paxton, what you did was you then called the FBI?” Buzbee asked. “That’s how you protected your friend?”

“That’s not correct, sir,” Mateer replied.

Buzbee suggested that if Mateer had asked Paxton about Cammack, he would have learned that the attorney general had properly hired him and that the subpoenas were a legitimate inquiry into a second Paul complaint that Mateer did not know about.

“So you went to the FBI thinking that this kid, as you called [Cammack], should not be subpoenaing banks?” Buzbee asked. “But you now know that if he was charged … to investigate bid rigging, then that might be something that he might subpoena?”

“I actually don’t know that,” Mateer replied.

What Buzbee did not mention, however, was that Paul’s second complaint alleged that he was the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy by business rivals, a court-appointed lawyer and a federal judge to steal his properties. No evidence has emerged, in the impeachment trial or any other forum, supporting the claim, which Paul code named “Operation Tarrytown.”

And House exhibits reveal that Paul and his lawyer had directed Cammack on how to conduct the probe, including by identifying investigative targets and writing the subpoenas.

As the cross-examination entered its third hour, Buzbee tried to elicit damaging admissions from Mateer, but the seasoned lawyer was unfazed. At one point, Buzbee asked at what hourly rate would an outside counsel be too expensive for the attorney general’s office.

“What’s your rate?” Mateer quipped.

At another, Buzbee returned to the argument that Mateer was insubordinate in joining other senior advisers in reporting Paxton to law enforcement.

“You were involved in a coup, weren’t you?” Buzbee asked.

“Absolutely not,” Mateer said.

Paxton a no-show, again, for trial

Paxton was again absent for Wednesday’s impeachment proceedings.

The suspended attorney general was present Tuesday morning while Buzbee entered not guilty pleas on his behalf, but he did not return after the lunch break as lawyers for the House impeachment managers called their first witness.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is the presiding officer over the impeachment trial, agreed with Paxton’s attorneys Tuesday after they argued that trial rules did not require Paxton’s presence beyond entering a plea.

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'Operation Deep Sea': How a Texas real estate developer pulled strings in Ken Paxton's office to investigate his enemies

Everything was going according to plan.

In September 2020, subpoenas were served to executives at four Texas banks who Austin real estate investor Nate Paul — a friend of Attorney General Ken Paxton — believed had information about an illegal scheme to defraud him.

The subpoenas were signed by Brandon Cammack, who identified himself as a special prosecutor with the Texas Attorney General’s office. But they were written by Paul.

Earlier, Paul had sent a list of targets to Cammack, via his lawyer, who he wanted to see investigated and subpoenaed in what he called “Operation Deep Sea.” He alleged he was the target of two massive yet separate conspiracies perpetrated by business rivals, judges and several law enforcement agencies, including agents that participated in an FBI-led raid on his home and business a year earlier.

Cammack persuaded a judge to approve 25 additional subpoenas, which sought email or phone records of prosecutors investigating Paul, federal court staff, police officers, the head of a charity who sued him, a court-appointed lawyer in that lawsuit and the lawyer’s wife.

All of those targets were on Paul’s list. And the investigation would never have happened without the support of Paxton.

The hiring of Cammack is a key charge in the Texas House’s impeachment case against Paxton, a third-term Republican, who is accused of misusing his office to help Paul in return for free home renovations and the investor’s help covering up the attorney general’s extramarital affair.

The Senate trial to determine if he will permanently be removed from office begins Sept. 5. The impeachment managers allege Paxton hired Cammack to carry out Paul’s bidding — allowing him to use the attorney general’s office as his “concierge law firm,” and harness its investigative powers to harass business rivals and other perceived enemies.

Emails, meeting transcripts, invoices and court records obtained by The Texas Tribune or released by the House impeachment managers shed new light on just how closely Paul and his attorney worked with Cammack to direct the investigation. For example, at one point Cammack drafted a search warrant affidavit that was nearly verbatim from a document Paul wrote.

Records also show that Cammack, who was handpicked by Paul, was working in secret, without the knowledge of Paxton’s top deputies. Those deputies advised him to distance himself from Paul, whom they regarded as a liar and a criminal.

“The whole idea to me was so outrageous that we would ever get involved in anything like that,” Blake Brickman, former deputy attorney general for policy and strategic initiatives, told House investigators. “… None of us wanted Paxton to actually go hire someone to do this.”

The discovery that Cammack had been working without their knowledge, he said, was what convinced eight senior officials in the office to report Paxton’s behavior to the FBI in 2020.

Paul was federally indicted in June on eight felony counts, accused of lying on financial statements in order to obtain loans. One of the lenders he allegedly deceived had received a subpoena from Cammack.

Lawyers for Paxton and Cammack declined to make them available for comment, citing the impeachment trial gag order. Paul did not respond.

Paul’s heavy hand in the investigation into his own complaint is unusual. While alleged crime victims often provide prosecutors valuable information and evidence, they should not be permitted to direct how an investigation is conducted, said Tom Berg, a former assistant Harris County district attorney.

“The prosecutor is supposed to do an independent evaluation of the merits of the case before he brings it,” Berg said.

He added that Paxton should have recused himself from overseeing the investigation because of his personal relationship with Paul.

Seeking help for a friend

The origin of the friendship between Paul, a hotshot real estate player, and Paxton, a buttoned-up lawyer 24 years older, remains unclear, save for a $25,000 campaign contribution the investor gave the politician in October 2018.

But by the end of 2019, court records show that many of Paul’s businesses were in severe financial trouble. Though Paul had once boasted of a portfolio worth $1.2 billion, in the preceding 18 months his businesses had defaulted on five loans or settlements, been sued by three creditors or investors and filed five bankruptcies, a Tribune analysis found.

Paul claimed he had been harassed by state and federal law enforcement officers in a raid of his home and business headquarters in August 2019. He also alleged they had altered the search warrants after they had been approved by a judge.

Paxton believed this account, his former deputies later told investigators, and wanted someone to investigate if any of those officials broke the law.

“This is terrible,” Mark Penley, then-deputy attorney general for criminal justice, recalled Paxton saying in December 2019. “It sounds like the FBI is doing really bad things.”

But for months he struggled to find anyone who would take Paul’s claims seriously.

Paxton first arranged a lunch meeting in May 2020 with Paul, his lawyer Michael Wynne and two senior officials with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. Mindy Montford, the district attorney’s first assistant, said later in an interview with investigators that she found Paul’s story “very incredulous.” But since the office wanted to maintain a good relationship with Paxton, Montford said, prosecutors agreed to invite Paul to make his complaint in writing and then refer it to the attorney general’s office. This gave Paxton jurisdiction to open an investigation of his own.

At Paxton’s request, then-Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice David Maxwell met with Paul three times in July and August that year. Penley joined for two of them.

Paul and his lawyer repeated the allegations, this time with the help of a PowerPoint presentation they named “Operation Longhorn.” They said the metadata in digital search warrants proved they had been altered. Their theory was that originally agents got permission to search for drugs but after finding none, illegally changed the warrants to search for evidence of financial crimes.

Penley, a former 16-year federal prosecutor, told House investigators the allegation “sounded absolutely crazy.” Maxwell, who served 24 years as a Texas Ranger, said he told Paul he’d never seen an instance where multiple agencies colluded to doctor a search warrant. The agency’s forensic examiners said the metadata could have changed for many reasons, including encryption that is a routine practice of the Department of Justice.

Paxton was frustrated. In an interview the attorney general later gave to law enforcement officials, he lamented how his deputies weren’t taking Paul’s allegations seriously.

“I just realized my office wasn’t getting it done,” Paxton said.

The acrimony was mutual. The attorney general’s senior officers wondered why, when the office was under tremendous pressure to help state and local officials understand their authority to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, Paxton was devoting so many resources to a single person.

“We were spending an increasingly large share of our calendar time focused on Nate Paul,” Paxton’s personal aide, Drew Wicker, later told House investigators.

A willing investigator

Unlike the top deputies at the attorney general’s office, Cammack had never been a prosecutor or police officer. He did not, as they did, have decades of experience as an attorney. He did, however, possess a trait they lacked: the willingness to take direction from Paul and his attorney.

Cammack, who graduated from the University of Houston Law Center in 2015, knew Wynne through professional circles in Houston. It was Wynne who connected him to Paxton, who in early September 2020 hired Cammack as an outside counsel to investigate Paul’s complaint.

Once hired, Cammack worked closely with Paul and Wynne. While Penley and Maxwell had pushed back against Paul’s claims, the investigation by Cammack proceeded as if Paul were running it.

Cammack on Sept. 3 met with Wynne and Paul for more than three hours and had a 15-minute call with Paxton about the investigation on Sept. 6, according to his billing records. Four days later, Wynne sent Cammack the document created by Paul called “Operation Deep Sea.”

It contained suggested targets for subpoenas and search warrants, to be served immediately, as well as an investigative roadmap that outlined the tasks to be completed such as “announced or unannounced visits in person” at the U.S. attorney’s office, Department of Public Safety, FBI and other law enforcement offices. The plan detailed what communications to seek and tools to get the information such as “grand jury subpoenas” and “search teams.”

A document Nate Paul's attorney sent Brandon Cammack titled

A document Nate Paul's attorney sent Brandon Cammack titled "Operation Deep Sea," to direct how Paul wanted the investigation into his enemies to proceed.

A Sept. 25 email from Wynne to Cammack and Paul about reaching targets by phone underscored the sense of urgency.

“They don’t talk, we are at their residences tomorrow,” Wynne wrote.

The scope of the probe Paul envisioned was far broader than what he had unsuccessfully pitched to Penley and Maxwell. The targets included not only state and federal law enforcement, prosecutors and court clerks, but individuals with whom Paul was engaged in business disputes and the lawyers who represented them.

It also extended beyond Paul’s complaint of law enforcement mistreatment, which was Paxton’s official basis for hiring Cammack. This changed on Sept. 23, when the Travis County District Attorney's Office referred to Cammack a new complaint that Paul had just filed.

This complaint, which Paul code-named “Operation Tarrytown,” laid out a second, wide-ranging conspiracy, different from the first in all respects save for its contention that Paul was the victim. This time, Paul alleged that a group of Austin businessmen had conspired to acquire the loans on several of his properties, force them into foreclosure and then rig the public auctions at which they were sold. And to pull off the scam, the group had enlisted the help of a court-appointed lawyer and federal bankruptcy judge, who agreed to participate.

More than 80% of a draft search warrant affidavit Cammack wrote was copied from Paul’s complaint, a Tribune analysis found.

In one instance, Cammack appeared to forget to switch from Paul’s first-person perspective, referring to one of the investor’s creditors as “my lender.” Cammack never ended up filing the search warrant.

Cammack forwarded the complaint to a private email address belonging to Paxton on Sept. 25. Paxton also met with Cammack, Wynne and Paul at the investor’s Austin home in late September, two sources with knowledge of the meeting said.

By Sept. 28, Cammack had persuaded a judge to approve 29 subpoenas. Paul supplied all of the targets, the Tribune found by cross-referencing the court records with emails received by Cammack.

And in the case of four subpoenas to banks that had lent money to Paul’s businesses, Cammack was quick to follow Paul’s instructions.

Hours after Cammack received the targets and language to use, he replied to Wynne via email, “applications for GJ subpoenas to former lenders went out,” referring to the grand jury.

If the recipients complied with the orders, Paul would have gained access to private records of those investigating his criminal case, the charity he was fighting in a lawsuit and businessmen who had purchased loans his companies had defaulted on.

But the scheme started unraveling the next day when Cammack visited two banks with Wynne to serve the subpoenas and attempt to interview bank executives. In recordings of the encounters made by Cammack and later obtained by investigators, he is polite and disarming, assuring one bank president he wasn’t in any sort of trouble.

The banks, however, were spooked. A lawyer for Bancorp emailed Cammack asking him to provide proof he was, in fact, representing the attorney general’s office. Counsel for Amplify Credit Union called the office directly with the same question. The assistant attorney general who took the call grew concerned when she could not find Cammack in the office’s directory.

By Sept. 30, Paxton’s top deputies realized that Cammack had been working with Paul without their knowledge for four weeks. Horrified, Penley sent a letter to Cammack demanding that he stop work immediately. Cammack forwarded the email to Paxton an hour later with the subject line “URGENT.”

Penley on Oct. 1 asked a judge to throw out the subpoenas Cammack had obtained because he lacked the authority to issue them. There were 39.

When Paxton found out about the motion, he called Montford, the first assistant Travis County district attorney. He said his staff had lied, that Cammack’s appointment was legitimate, and that the court needed to know this information, Montford told investigators.

“I would like to be heard by the judge,” Paxton said to Montford.

But it was too late, she informed Paxton. The judge had already quashed the subpoenas.

Cammack ceased working as Penley instructed and sent an invoice for $14,025. The agency has yet to pay it.

Paxton on Oct. 2 placed Penley and Maxwell on investigative leave and fired both a month later.

Wynne wrote a letter to Paxton on Oct. 11 outlining a new complaint. The attorney general’s top deputies had inappropriately intervened to stop Cammack’s investigation, he said, and falsely stated that it lacked merit.

“The actions of employees of the OAG have severely harmed and disadvantaged a Texas citizen and his family of their constitutional rights,” Wynne wrote.

The victim, once again, was Paul.

Robert Downen, Joshua Fechter, Jolie McCullough, Kate McGee and Alejandro Serrano contributed research.

Carla Astudillo contributed to this report.

Disclosure: The University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Ken Paxton’s former personal assistant and 'second son' a star witness in impeachment probe

Drew Wicker did not like what he was hearing.

The personal assistant to Attorney General Ken Paxton stood in his boss’s kitchen in summer 2020 as Paxton expressed his desire for granite countertops with a contractor who estimated a $20,000 price tag for the upgrade.

“I will check with Nate,” the contractor said after Paxton agreed to the cost, according to Wicker. When Paxton brought up other fixes he wanted for his Austin property, the contractor said he’d have to check with Nate about those, too.

Nate, Wicker understood, was Nate Paul, the Austin real estate investor Paxton had been meeting frequently with that spring and summer to discuss Paul’s various legal problems, including his claim of mistreatment by police after a raid at his home. To Wicker, the conversation sounded as if Paul would be paying for the renovation.

Wicker was so uncomfortable that he raised the issue with Paxton about a week later as they ate burgers at a Plano restaurant. Paxton assured Wicker he was paying for the renovations personally.

Ken Paxton’s former personal assistant Drew Wicker.

Three years later, those granite countertops have emerged as a key piece of evidence in the impeachment case against Paxton, who is accused of misusing the attorney general’s office to help his friend Paul fend off a federal investigation into his flailing real estate empire. And Wicker — Paxton’s aide who grew into a family friend — has become one of the key witnesses in the case against his former boss. Among the 20 articles of impeachment laid out by the Texas House is an allegation that Paul paid for not just countertops but an extensive renovation of Paxton’s Tarrytown property in exchange for the attorney general’s help with his legal issues.

As one of the aides who spent the most time at the attorney general’s side, Wicker proved an invaluable source as a House committee investigated Paxton in secret this spring before recommending he be impeached.

“I’m going to give you the best recollection, and then I’m going to trust that the evidence points where it shall,” Wicker told his interviewers. “And if that ends up being that (Paxton) conducted illegal business, then I love the man all the same and I hope that that gets adjusted, but he also needs to be held to account.”

The transcript of Wicker’s May 19 interview, released Thursday night along with nearly 4,000 pages of evidence compiled by the House, provided investigators with details on multiple abuses they would allege Paxton committed in office.

Wicker described to investigators a close relationship with Paxton and said that his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, once joked that he was the couple’s “second son.” Wicker resigned shortly after Paxton’s top deputies accused him of corruption in September 2020, turning down a promotion to a policy role the attorney general had offered. He described the last three years as a “nightmare,” adding that he had also been subpoenaed by the FBI.

Wicker joined the office in September 2019, a month after finishing graduate school at Georgetown University, where he studied political economy. Recommended by a senior official in the office whom he knew, Wicker met with Paxton and was hired on the spot.

The role of the attorney general’s body man was demanding, usually stretching well past the 9-to-5 workday. Wicker often drove Paxton around, managed his schedule and couriered documents that needed the attorney general’s review or signature. He also got to travel with Paxton, including a trip to China just a few months into the job.

He added that sometimes he did personal errands for Paxton that were outside of his job description, like moving clothes from the Tarrytown house while it was being renovated.

“My view on my job and my role was that if I could make his life a little bit easier … that allowed him to better focus on issues pertaining to the state,” Wicker said.

Wicker said he met Paul in spring of 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and estimated he saw the real estate developer a dozen times over the following months. Sometimes, he and Paxton had lunch with Paul; on other occasions, they visited Paul at his downtown Austin office a few blocks south of the attorney general’s office.

He said there was a “good amount of discussion” about an FBI raid on Paul’s home and business in August 2019 and that Paxton felt the episode was a “miscarriage of justice.” The House investigators say Paul, meanwhile, wanted the attorney general’s help in obtaining the private search warrant documents the bureau had filed with the court. Paul was federally indicted in June on eight counts of making false statements to financial institutions.

The young aide also recalled an instance that summer in which he delivered a manila folder to Paul at Paxton’s request. Investigators believe that folder contained the confidential FBI files about the criminal probe into Paul, which Paxton leaked to the developer.

Wicker was frustrated with how much energy Paxton was focusing on his relationship with Paul. House investigators said they discovered at least 20 meetings between the pair that spring and summer, despite the burgeoning pandemic.

“We had a number of issues that were top of mind … in terms of policy and initiatives,” Wicker said. “And we were spending an increasingly large share of our calendar time focused on Nate Paul.”

Wicker, by chance, also discovered evidence that Paxton had resumed an extramarital affair with a Senate staffer that his top deputies thought was over.

The relationship between Paxton and the woman is central to the impeachment case. House investigators allege that Paul hired her in June 2020 as a favor to Paxton, allowing her to move from San Antonio to Austin.

At a meeting with senior staff in September 2018, with his wife by his side, Paxton disclosed that he had a relationship with the woman, but that it was over and he had recommitted to his marriage, the Associated Press previously reported.

But Wicker, visiting the Omni Barton Creek hotel with his family in summer 2020, ran into Paxton getting off the elevator with a woman who was not his wife.

“No words were said,” Wicker recalled. “Paxton walked out, shook my hand, shook my father’s hand and the lady walked out, didn’t acknowledge us or say anything.”

Wicker said he reported what he saw to Marc Rylander, the Paxton senior adviser who had told him about the affair when he started the job. Wicker described what the woman looked like.

“Great,” Rylander replied. “She’s back.”

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Texas AG Ken Paxton impeached — suspended from duties pending outcome of Senate trial

"Texas AG Ken Paxton impeached, suspended from duties pending outcome of Senate trial" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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In a history-making late-afternoon vote, a divided Texas House chose Saturday to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, temporarily removing him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office.

The vote to adopt the 20 articles of impeachment was 121-23.

Attention next shifts to the Texas Senate, which will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.

Permanently removing Paxton from office and barring him from holding future elected office in Texas would require the support of two-thirds of senators.

The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.

“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, a committee member, told House members.

“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”

Paxton supporters criticized the impeachment proceedings as rushed, secretive and based on hearsay accounts of actions taken by Paxton, who was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the investigating committee.

“This process is indefensible,” said Rep. John Smithee, R-Amarillo, who complained that the vote was taking place on a holiday weekend before members had time to conduct a thorough review of the accusations. “It concerns me a lot because today it could be General Paxton, tomorrow it could be you and the next day it could be me.”

Saturday’s vote temporarily removes a controversial but influential Republican figure in Texas and nationally. He has led an office that initiated lawsuits that overturned or blocked major Biden and Obama administration policies, sought to reverse Trump’s electoral defeat in 2020, aggressively pursued voter fraud claims and targeted hospitals that provided gender care to minors.

The Legislature had impeached state officials just twice since 1876 — and never an attorney general — but the House committee members who proposed impeachment argued Saturday that Paxton’s misconduct in office was so egregious that it warranted his removal.

“This gentleman is no longer fit for service or for office,” said committee member Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston. “Either this is going to be the beginning of the end of his criminal reign, or God help us with the harms that will come to all Texans if he's allowed to stay the top cop on the take, if millions of Texans can’t trust us to do the right thing, right here, right now.”

Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, a member of the investigative committee, used his presentation time to criticize Paxton for calling representatives as they worked on the House floor to “personally threaten them with political consequences in the next election” if they supported impeachment.

Speaking against impeachment, Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, called the process “wrong.”

“Don’t end our session this way. Don’t tarnish this institution,” Tinderholt said. “Don’t cheapen the act of impeachment. Don’t undermine the will of the voters. Don’t give Democrats another victory handed to them on a silver platter.”

The vote came as hardline conservatives supportive of Paxton’s aggressive strategy of suing the Biden administration were lining up in support of him. Former President Donald Trump — a close political ally to Paxton — blasted the impeachment proceedings as an attempt to unseat “the most hard working and effective” attorney general and thwart the “large number of American Patriots” who voted for Paxton.

Trump vowed to target any Republican who voted to impeach Paxton.

As lawmakers listened to the committee members make their case, Paxton took to social media to boost conservatives who had come to his defense, including Trump, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and conservative radio host Grant Stinchfield, who tweeted, “Kangaroo Court in Texas.”

About 90 minutes into the debate, the official Twitter account of the Texas attorney general’s office began tweeting at members of the committee to challenge some of the claims being made.

“Please tell the truth,” the agency’s account said.

Because Paxton was impeached while the Legislature was in session, the Texas Constitution requires the Senate to remain in Austin after the regular session ends Monday or set a trial date for the future, with no deadline for a trial spelled out in the law.

Impeachment represents the greatest political threat to date for Paxton, who has been reelected twice despite a 2015 indictment for felony securities fraud and an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of official misconduct that began in 2020.

The impeachment vote, on the third-to-last day of the regular legislative session, capped a tumultuous week at the Capitol. From Tuesday to Thursday:

  • Paxton abruptly accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of presiding over the chamber while drunk and demanded that he resign.
  • The House General Investigating Committee revealed it had been investigating Paxton in secret since March.
  • The committee heard a three-hour presentation from its investigators detailing allegations of corruption against the attorney general.
  • The committee’s three Republicans and two Democrats voted to forward 20 articles of impeachment to the full House.

Paxton, who was comfortably elected to a third term last year, made a rare appearance before assembled reporters Friday to criticize the process, saying he was not given a chance to present favorable evidence. He called impeachment an effort by Democrats and “liberal” Republicans to remove him from office, violating the will of voters and sidelining an effective warrior against Biden administration policies.

“The corrupt politicians in the Texas House are demonstrating that blind loyalty to Speaker Dade Phelan is more important than upholding their oath of office,” Paxton said. He added, “They are showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process.”

Many of the articles of impeachment focused on allegations that Paxton had repeatedly abused his powers of office to help a political donor and friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In fall 2020, eight top deputies in the attorney general’s office approached federal and state investigators to report their concerns about Paxton’s relationship with Paul.

All eight quit or were fired in the following months, and most of the details of their allegations against Paxton were revealed in a lawsuit by four former executives who claim they were fired — in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act — in retaliation for reporting Paxton to the authorities. Paxton’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit is awaiting action by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.

According to the lawsuit, the whistleblowers accused Paxton of engaging in a series of “intense and bizarre” actions to help Paul, including intervening in an open-records case to help Paul gain documents from federal and state investigations into the real estate investor’s businesses. They also accused Paxton of directing his agency to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and a charity, pushing through a rushed legal opinion to help Paul avoid a pending foreclosure sale on properties and ignoring agency rules to hire an outside lawyer to pursue an investigation helpful to Paul’s businesses.

In return, the whistleblower lawsuit alleged, Paul paid for all or part of a major renovation of a home Paxton owns in Austin. Paul also helped Paxton keep an extramarital affair quiet by employing the woman Paxton had been seeing, the lawsuit said, adding that the attorney general may also have been motivated by a $25,000 contribution Paul made to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.

In their report to the House General Investigating Committee on Wednesday, the panel’s investigators concluded that Paxton may have committed numerous crimes and violated his oath of office.

Investigators said possible felonies included abuse of official capacity by, among other actions, diverting staff time to help Paul at a labor cost of at least $72,000; misuse of official information by possibly helping Paul gain access to investigative documents; and retaliation and official oppression by firing employees who complained of Paxton’s actions to the FBI.

The articles of impeachment accused Paxton of accepting bribes, disregarding his official duties and misapplying public resources to help Paul.

The articles also referred to felony charges of securities fraud, and one felony count of failing to register with state securities officials, that have been pending against Paxton since 2015, months after he took office as attorney general. The fraud charges stem from Paxton’s work in 2011 to solicit investors in Servergy Inc. without disclosing that the McKinney company was paying him for the work.

The impeachment articles also accused Paxton of obstruction of justice by acting to delay the criminal cases with legal challenges and because a Paxton donor pursued legal action that limited the pay to prosecutors in the case, causing further delays “to Paxton’s advantage.”

Taken in total, the accusations showed a pattern of dereliction of duty in violation of the Texas Constitution, Paxton’s oaths of office and state laws against public officials acting against the public’s interest, the impeachment resolution said.

“Paxton engaged in misconduct, private or public, of such character as to indicate his unfitness for office,” the articles said.

An attorney general had never before been impeached by the Legislature, an extraordinary step that lawmakers have reserved for public officials who faced serious allegations of misconduct. Only two Texas officials have been removed from office by Senate conviction, Gov. James Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975.

If Paxton is to survive, he will need to secure the support of 11 senators. With the 12 Democratic senators likely to support his removal, votes for acquittal would need to come from the 19 Republican members.

None has publicly defended Paxton. In a television interview Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said merely that he believed senators would be responsible jurors and “do their duty.”

A complicating factor is Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, Paxton’s wife. State law requires all senators to attend an impeachment trial, though whether she will recuse herself from voting is unclear.

Paxton’s political base lies in the far-right faction of the Republican Party, where he has positioned himself as a champion of conservative causes and a thorn in the side of Democratic President Joe Biden. Paxton has criticized his opponents as RINOs (Republicans in name only) who “want nothing more than to sabotage our legal challenges to Biden’s extremist agenda by taking me out.”

He also retained the backing of the state Republican Party, led by former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, who frequently attacks Republicans he considers to be insufficiently conservative. On Friday, Rinadi said the impeachment was Phelan’s fault for allowing Democrats to have too much influence in the House.

“The impeachment proceedings against the Attorney General are but the latest front in the Texas House’s war against Republicans to stop the conservative direction of her state,” Rinaldi said in a statement.

Paxton also has maintained a close relationship with Trump and filed an unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court challenge to the 2020 presidential election. Paxton also spoke at Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before the president’s supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

More than a dozen news organizations filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety on Monday, accusing the agency of unlawfully withholding public records related to the May school shooting in Uvalde.

The organizations, which include ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, have each filed requests for information detailing the response to the massacre by various authorities under the Texas Public Information Act. ProPublica and the Tribune filed about 70 records requests with multiple agencies.

DPS has refused to release records sought in the requests, even as the agency has selectively disclosed some information through public testimony, third-party analyses and news conferences.

“In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and continuing throughout the ensuing two months, DPS has declined to provide any meaningful information in response to the Requests regarding the events of that day — despite the awful reality that some 376 members of law enforcement responded to the tragedy, and hundreds of those were in the school or on school property not going into the unlocked classroom where the gunman continued killing helpless youth,” the lawsuit states.

A comprehensive report released in July by a Texas House of Representatives committee found that numerous law enforcement agencies, including the state police, failed to quickly confront the gunman, who killed 19 students and two teachers over the course of about 77 minutes. DPS has provided little information about the actions of its 91 officers who responded to the scene.

Under Texas law, records are presumed public unless a government body cites a specific exemption that allows information to be withheld under the state’s public information act.

DPS has said that releasing records could interfere with an ongoing investigation. The news organizations argue that there is no such investigation, given that the guilt of the gunman is not in dispute and authorities say the 18-year-old acted alone. The local prosecutor, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee, has acknowledged that she is not conducting a criminal investigation.

The records requested by the news organizations include emails, body camera and other video footage, call logs, 911 and other emergency communications, interview notes, forensic and ballistic records, and lists of DPS personnel who responded to the shooting.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety has offered inconsistent accounts of how law enforcement responded to the Uvalde tragedy, and its lack of transparency has stirred suspicion and frustration in a community that is still struggling with grief and shock,” said Laura Lee Prather, a First Amendment lawyer at Haynes Boone who represents the news organizations. “DPS has refused numerous requests by these news organizations even though it’s clear under Texas law that the public is entitled to have access to these important public records. We ask that the court grant our petition so that the people of Texas can understand the truth about what happened.”

In addition to ProPublica and the Tribune, the plaintiffs include The New York Times Company, The Washington Post, NBC News, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, Scripps Media and Gannett.

The suit was brought in state district court in Travis County.

Leaked video shows Texas law enforcement’s long wait to confront Uvalde school shooter

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"Leaked video shows Texas law enforcement’s long wait to confront Uvalde school shooter" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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UVALDE — On the same day that a Texas House committee investigating the Uvalde school shooting announced plans to release footage of law enforcement response to the incident, a video showing police waiting for more than an hour in the school hallway before confronting the shooter was published by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV.

[“If there’s kids in there, we need to go in”: Officers in Uvalde were ready with guns, shields and tools — but not clear orders]

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“The way that video was released today was the most chicken thing I’ve ever seen,” the mayor, stopping short of cursing, said during the meeting attended by residents and families affected by the shooting.

State Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican and the committee’s chair, said earlier Tuesday that he planned to lead a private briefing for victims’ families in Uvalde on Sunday morning, allowing them to see the hallway video from a Robb Elementary School surveillance camera and discuss the committee’s preliminary report. Then the committee would release the video and the report to the public and answer questions from reporters, he said.

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But hours after that announcement, the Statesman and KVUE published a 1-hour-and-22-minute version of the video, edited to remove the sound of children screaming and to obscure the identity of a student who ran from the shooter in the hallway. It depicts police arriving at the scene quickly and approaching two classrooms where the gunman, an 18-year-old Uvalde resident, was shooting. The officers retreat after being fired on and do not reapproach for more than an hour, when several breach one of the classrooms and fatally shoot the gunman who killed 19 students and two teachers.

Multiple law enforcement officers from Uvalde, the state Department of Public Safety, U.S. Border Patrol and other agencies can be seen in the video. Many were heavily armed and had shields but waited more than an hour before they stormed the classroom.

Much of the details shown in the video have already been disclosed in media reports and details released by law enforcement. The Texas Tribune reviewed the footage on June 20, publishing a detailed written account based on the footage, other media reports and law enforcement records. The Tribune and the Statesman have also both published still images from security footage.

But the video itself shows in agonizing detail the waiting done outside the classroom.

Its release drew frustration from some state officials who said they wanted the families of the victims to have the opportunity to see the footage first. Burrows said Tuesday before the video’s publication that “we feel strongly that members of the Uvalde community should have the opportunity to see the video and hear from us before they are made public.”

Afterward, he said he was “disappointed.” And DPS Director Steven McCraw said in a statement those “most affected should have been among the first to see it.”

It’s unclear who provided the video to the Statesman and KVUE.

The footage is being made public over the objection of the Uvalde County district attorney, who had instructed DPS not to provide the video to the committee.

“As I stated during my testimony before the Senate Special Committee to Protect All Texans, this video provides horrifying evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary on May 24 was an abject failure,” McCraw said Tuesday. “In law enforcement, when one officer fails, we all fail.”

Since last month, the three-person House committee — which also includes El Paso Democrat state Rep. Joe Moody and former Republican state Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman — has interviewed more than a dozen witnesses behind closed doors, including law enforcement and school workers.

Their report will be the second investigation into the law enforcement response of the shooting to be made public. Last week, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center, located at Texas State University in San Marcos, released its comprehensive account of police tactics during the shooting.

Moody, the lone Democrat on the committee, said on Twitter that the report the House committee is preparing to release Sunday will provide more context to the video.

“A piecemeal release of information continues to tell part of a story that people deserve the complete truth about,” he said.

McCraw has said Uvalde schools police Chief Pete Arredondo was most responsible for a flawed response to the shooting. Uvalde CISD Superintendent Hal Harrell placed Arredondo on leave last month. Arredondo was elected to the Uvalde City Council before the shooting but wasn’t sworn in until after the massacre. Arredondo submitted his resignation from the City Council earlier this month. At Tuesday’s meeting, council members formally accepted that resignation and set a special election to fill his seat for November.

Since the May 24 shooting, community members have repeatedly pressed officials for details about what happened. Those calls intensified after Gov. Greg Abbott and DPS officials initially made several inaccurate statements about the police response. The governor and McCraw have since said that video footage from the school surveillance cameras should be released.

In Uvalde on Tuesday night, residents told McLaughlin it’s his job to stand up for the families who lost loved ones and get details of the investigations.

Resident Diana Olvedo-Karau said City Council members need to advocate aggressively for the families.

“If it means losing your seat, so be it,” she said.

Uvalde pastor Daniel Myers told the mayor he needs “to quit being so nice and step on some toes.”

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Myers responded: “Well you need a bigger foot because they’re stepping all over you.”

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At first meeting since massacre, Uvalde school board takes no action on police chief

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District board took no action Friday evening against its embattled police chief, Pete Arredondo, in a special board meeting called in response to last week’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.

As incident commander, Arredondo made the decision to wait more than an hour for backup instead of ordering officers at the scene to immediately confront the shooter who killed 19 students and two teachers. The head of the state police later said this was the “wrong decision, period.”

Many residents had called on Arredondo to quit or be sacked, saying decisive action could have potentially saved lives. Although the agenda for Friday’s meeting allowed the board to terminate Arredondo, the board declined to do so.

Superintendent Bob Harrell said he is eager for several concurrent investigations, including ones by Uvalde County’s district attorney and federal Department of Justice, to run their course. But he told the 25 residents in attendance that he had no additional information to provide, other than reassuring parents that children would never return to Robb.

Just two residents signed up to speak at the meeting. Dawn Pointevent said her 7-year-old son, who was due to attend Robb next year, is now “deathly afraid” of going to school.

After the brief meeting, parent Angela Turner said she was disappointed the board did not fire Arredondo and did not discuss how the district would improve safety at schools.

Arredondo did not attend the meeting. He has gone to great lengths to avoid the public eye since the shooting. Last week he took the oath of office for the City Council, an additional position he was elected to last month, in a secret ceremony. Police officers have also guarded his home and workplace.

Arredondo, 50, was hired to lead the small school district police force in 2020. It has grown to a half-dozen officers, whose duties include providing security at campuses, staffing sporting events and narcotics work.

A career lawman who grew up in Uvalde and graduated from its high school in 1990, Arredondo previously spent 12 years in Laredo with the Webb County Sheriff’s Office and the United ISD Police Department.

GOP mega donor charged after bogus election fraud scheme led a former cop to threaten a repairman

"GOP mega donor Steven Hotze charged after a bogus election fraud scheme led a former cop to threaten a repairman" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Conservative activist Steven Hotze on Wednesday was indicted on two felony charges related to his alleged involvement in an air conditioning repairman being held at gunpoint in 2020 during a bizarre search for fraudulent mail ballots that did not exist, according to his attorney, Gary Polland.

Hotze, 71, was indicted by a Harris County grand jury and faces one count of unlawful restraint and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Court filings in the case were not available Wednesday evening. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg declined to comment.

The charges stem from Hotze’s hiring of more than a dozen private investigators to look for voter fraud in Harris County ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

One of the investigators, former Houston police captain Mark Aguirre, was arrested in December 2020 and charged with aggravated assault. Prosecutors said Aguirre used his vehicle to run an air conditioning repairman off the road before dawn on Oct. 19, 2020.

Aguirre then detained the repairman at gunpoint and ordered an associate to search his truck, according to court filings. When a Houston police officer happened upon the scene and stopped to investigate, Aguirre said the truck contained 750,000 fraudulent mail ballots prepared by Democrats.

The truck contained only air conditioning parts and equipment. Hotze’s investigators have not produced any credible evidence to support allegations that Democrats orchestrated a wide-ranging mail ballot scheme in Harris County during that election.

Polland said the charges against Hotze are “outrageous” and his client had no knowledge of the roadside incident until he read media reports of Aguirre’s arrest. He said Aguirre asked Hotze for funds to investigate alleged election fraud, Hotze agreed, and that was the extent of his involvement in Aguirre’s affairs.

“All I know is Hotze didn’t aid or abet this in any way,” Polland said. “The donation of funds was for a righteous activity of rooting out ballot fraud.”

Grand jury subpoenas in Aguirre’s case show that Hotze paid Aguirre $266,400. Most of that sum, $211,400, was paid to Aguirre on the day after the alleged holdup.

Aguirre remains free on bond awaiting trial. One of his conditions of release is that he no longer work for Hotze.

Hotze, however, plans to continue monitoring election activity in Houston. At a “Freedom Gala” fundraiser Hotze hosted on April 2 with Attorney General Ken Paxton, Hotze said donations would be used to investigate voter fraud in Texas.

Also attending the event was Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO who has promoted the baseless theory that former President Donald Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Polland said Hotze does not plan to alter his plans because of the indictments.

Hotze, a physician, has long advocated on behalf of conservative issues. He was instrumental in the 2015 defeat of Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance, which he derided as “pro-homosexual.” He opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage spurred by a Supreme Court ruling earlier that year.

In 2020, he unsuccessfully sued Harris County in an attempt to have 127,000 ballots cast at drive-thru locations thrown out.

His far-right beliefs have sometimes led to disputes with other Republicans. In June 2020, during protests following the police killing of George Floyd, Hotze left a voicemail with Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff urging the governor “to shoot to kill if any of these son-of-a-bitch people start rioting.” U.S. John Cornyn called the remarks “absolutely disgusting and reprehensible.”

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Correction, April 20, 2022: Due to an editing error, Steven Hotze's name was previously misspelled in the headline. It's Steven, not Stephen.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

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