Initially praised for hiring experienced senior-level staffers as attorney general, Paxton also began cleaning house—including by forcing out Chip Roy, the highly regarded first assistant attorney general—to make room for a senior staff with evangelical ties. Roy was later elected to Congress, and was one of the few Republicans in that body to criticize Paxton’s lawsuit against the swing states.
When the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had a right to marry in 2015, Paxton urged county officials to defy the high court in the name of religious liberty.
Trump’s election gave Paxton new opportunities. In Texas, where land rights usually reign supreme, he has expressed support for the president’s actions to seize private land along the Mexican border to build a wall. He also sued the Trump administration over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), giving the president an excuse to stop that program. His lockstep support for the president’s agenda won him new fans.
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In 2018, his wife, Angela Paxton, a math teacher at a Christian academy in Frisco, in the northern exurbs of Dallas, was elected to the Texas state Senate, making the Paxtons one of the ultimate power couples in that conservative region of north Texas. Before her election, she had gained minor fame for a tune she sang to delighted Republicans when introducing her husband at speaking events. It went, in part, “I’m a pistol-packin’ mama and my husband sues Obama.”
In her first legislative session, last year, she filed a bill relating to “the creation of a regulatory sandbox program administered by the attorney general for certain financial products and services.” As dull as that may sound, the bill would have given her husband the authority to rewrite the very financial rules that he was indicted for violating in 2015. While the bill was not retroactive, legal experts said it would have bolstered Ken Paxton’s legal defense by allowing him to argue that the law he is charged with violating was so specious that it was later changed. The bill went nowhere, and, as one veteran lawmaker told me at the time, it backfired by highlighting the attorney general’s legal troubles instead of mitigating them.
Then, in October, seven top aides in the attorney general’s office signed a letter asking federal officials to investigate allegations of improper influence, bribery, abuse of office, and other crimes. A month later, it was revealed that Paxton had appointed a special prosecutor to look into whether the FBI had improperly raided the home and office of the Austin real-estate developer Nate Paul, a search Paul insisted was improper. In a deposition, Paul said that Paxton had recommended a woman for a job at his real-estate company and he hired her; multiple media outlets reported that Paxton had previously had an extramarital affair with the woman. Earlier this month, the FBI subpoenaed the attorney general’s office as part of what the Associated Press said is a criminal probe. Paxton has remained defiant throughout. But as his legal problems multiply, presumably his legal expenses do too.