Paxton is coming under fire at home for refusing to turn over texts and emails related to his trip to the Capitol to join the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally. His association with Trump’s schemes is now coming to a head: The Travis County district attorney has just announced that Paxton may be running afoul of the state’s open records law.
You may remember Paxton. He led that despicable lawsuit brought by Republican attorneys general that sought to invalidate millions of votes in four states, all because those states went for Joe Biden.
Paxton then gave a rousing speech at the Jan. 6 gathering, in which he urged Trump supporters not to “quit fighting.” They didn’t, and soon after, a mob attacked the Capitol, culminating in an effort to overturn U.S. democracy that left five dead and scores injured.
This has now caught up with him. And what’s emerging is shaping up as quite the sordid tale.
Last spring, four Texas newspapers asked Paxton’s office for all work-related texts and emails sent and received while he was in Washington for “Stop the Steal,” citing Texas law guaranteeing the public the right to government documents.
Paxton refused, and the four newspapers took their complaint to Travis County district attorney Jose Garza. Now Garza’s office has investigated the complaint and found that it has merit, announcing that Paxton is in violation of Texas law and giving him four days to release the documents in question, or go to court.
What makes this so remarkable is that the office of Paxton, as attorney general, is supposed to be the party enforcing this open records law. But Texas law also offers the option of going to the Travis County prosecutor to allege that a state agency (in this case, Paxton’s) is in violation.
That’s what happened here. Underscoring the absurdity of this, one transparency expert told the Houston Chronicle that he could not recall another example of an attorney general being accused of violating the law to keep his own communications out of the public eye.
It’s hard to say what Paxton’s communications — presuming they do come out — will contain. And there’s no indication that they will necessarily contain anything that explosive. But it’s reasonable to suspect they may include exchanges with some of the rally’s organizers and possibly Trump’s inner circle about what was about to transpire.
Any more detail about Paxton’s role in helping to energize the crowd, given what ultimately happened, will surely not reflect well on him as top law enforcement official from one of the nation’s largest states.
Paxton, of course, will undoubtedly view any association with Trump, no matter how wretched and depraved, as helpful with the GOP base. Indeed, in Trumpist public officials like Paxton, you can trace a direct line from support for Trump’s effort to subvert democracy right to the seething contempt for his own role as a public servant we’re now seeing from him.
Recall that when Paxton announced that lawsuit on Trump’s behalf, he oozed with phony sanctimony about the need for “trust in the integrity of our election processes.” After this, he spearheaded a lawsuit that didn’t merely seek to cast out millions of votes based on lies. It also went out of its way to highlight invented fraud in urban areas that just happen to be home to a lot of Black voters.
It was only a short leap from there to playing a prominent role in “Stop the Steal,” and then after that rally helped spark the worst outbreak of U.S. political violence in modern times, spinning right around and blaming the riot on antifa. Yes, Paxton also did exactly that.
Now reporters are demanding that Paxton release his communications about that day. As a San Antonio Express-News editorial sharply put it:
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?
To top it all off, Paxton may now be breaking the law that his own office is supposed to enforce to keep any Jan. 6-related communications covered up.
Here’s another unshakable rule of the Trump era: The same Republicans who insult us with the most transparently phony pieties about protecting the integrity of our constitutional system will sooner or later display bottomless contempt for our elections, for the law, and even for public service itself.