One constant of indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton’s tenure in public office is there is no bottom, just newfound lows.
It’s bad enough the state’s top law enforcement official was indicted in 2015 on securities fraud, a dark cloud that hovers over Paxton and strains his credibility. But Paxton also is reportedly under federal investigation for using his office to support a campaign donor — allegations made by former staffers in the attorney general’s office.
These allegations raise important questions of character, or lack thereof. But Paxton also has demonstrated he is profoundly anti-democratic. He has the ignominy of leading the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, filing a garbage lawsuit — as described by one election law expert — to advance the baseless claim of widespread voter fraud in support of former President Donald Trump.
There was no widespread voter fraud, but Paxton has been consistent in his fervor to politicize this nonissue (the great voter fraud is the lie that widespread voter fraud occurred). His office’s election fraud case unit logged 22,000 staff hours in 2020 — and resolved 16 cases.
An American Civil Liberties Union analysis of voter fraud prosecutions pursued by Paxton’s office since 2015 found at least 72 percent of the cases were brought against Black and Latino defendants, and 45 percent were against Black and Latino women.
Given all of this — the sycophancy to Trump, the promotion of the Big Lie of voter fraud — it was no surprise Paxton attended the Jan. 6 “Save America Rally” that morphed into an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
But who paid for Paxton’s jaunt to Washington, D.C., for the rally? And with whom did Paxton communicate during the week of the insurrection? How did he react to the riot as it unfolded? Who booked him as a speaker?
These are the types of questions Texas journalists have been asking — questions Paxton refused to answer. It is so important to understand Paxton’s role in the “Save America Rally” that the San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, ProPublica and the Texas Tribune are working together to obtain the relevant records to inform the public.
That’s proved problematic.
For starters, the news outlets have learned there is no policy to guide the release of work-related messages Paxton might send or receive on his personal devices — stunning since the attorney general’s office settles disputes over records requests involving other agencies and branches of government.
Who reviews Paxton’s messages for release? The attorney general’s office or Paxton? It’s unclear.
The Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News have requested all of Paxton’s messages for Jan. 5 through Jan. 11, but to no avail. A public information officer has said the records fall under confidential attorney-client privilege. Maybe, but it is hard to believe all his communications would be confidential. We could go on, but the point here is Paxton has no regard for the public’s right to know.
As he tweeted: “Triggered Texas Fake News Cartel strikes again. My office follows open records law. That’s our policy. These ‘journalists’ didn’t like what they got so they complain and spread misinformation. Pathetic.”
No, sir, what is pathetic is an elected official with such disregard for democracy and the public’s right to know. With each new low, Paxton only proves more unworthy of office.
• San Antonio Express-News editorial board