AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton won’t say who paid for him to travel to Washington, D.C., where he spoke at the Jan. 6 rally that preceded a mob of Donald Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol.
Paxton and his second in command were both in Washington that day, according to calendars and travel documents The Dallas Morning News obtained through public records requests. The state paid for First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster to travel to Washington for “meetings with senior White House officials.” It’s not clear whether he attended the Jan. 6 rally with Paxton.
The attorney general’s office said it did not coordinate or pay for Paxton’s trip. His campaign spokesman did not respond to questions about who financed the travel.
The lack of information comes as the embattled attorney general faces mounting pressure to account for a series of contentious decisions in recent months.
A Republican and staunch Trump supporter, Paxton unsuccessfully sought to overturn the presidential election results in four key battleground states after Joe Biden’s win. The lawsuit was drafted by lawyers close to Trump, The New York Times has reported.
The FBI, meanwhile, is investigating Paxton for allegedly abusing his office to help a friend and campaign donor, according to The Associated Press. A conservative Christian who built his career on fighting for family values, he is accused of trading political favors for the donor’s help remodeling his home and a job for a woman with whom he allegedly had an affair.
Paxton already faces felony charges stemming from allegations he defrauded investors in a McKinney technology company when he was a state legislator. He was indicted in 2015 but has not yet faced trial.
Paxton has denied all the accusations. But, it’s unclear whether the growing scandals will topple his political rise. Paxton is up for re-election next year, and faces potential primary challenges from fellow Republicans, such as Land Commissioner George P. Bush. In the second half of 2020, Paxton raised $305,500, a paltry sum compared to other statewide officials.
Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist who describes Paxton as a friend, said his long-term future depends on what happens between now and December, when any challengers would have to declare themselves.
“There’s no evidence that I can see that tells me he’s vulnerable in a Republican primary,” said Mackowiak, who is also chairman of the Travis County Republican Party. “But I will also say that if he gets indicted again a second time, that changes things.”
“Cats have nine lives, and eventually their ninth life is up. And this might be Ken’s ninth life. It may be his third. It’s hard to know,” he added. “He’s in a dicey situation right now. He knows that. But I also think he’s a hell of a fighter.”
Last week, state senators grilled Paxton about his Washington trip during a hearing on his agency’s budget. When asked whether he traveled to the capital on state or campaign business — or whether he spent even $1 of taxpayer money to be there — Paxton did not directly answer.
“I didn’t spend money personally,” he said.
It’s unclear whether Paxton brought his state-funded security detail.
State ethics rules require Paxton to disclose how he funded his trip to Washington, unless he used his own money. If he spent campaign funds, Paxton would have to disclose that in a report due this summer. If someone else paid for him to go, Paxton would likely need to report this on his financial statement.
In the past, Paxton has reported receiving gifts for hunting and fishing trips, sporting events and airfare. He has also disclosed honoraria from conservative groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Republican Attorneys General Association, most likely for expenses connected to speaking at their events.
The Republican Attorneys General Association, for which Paxton served as chairman in 2019, did not answer questions about whether it paid for Paxton’s January trip to Washington.
While Texas taxpayers didn’t fund Paxton’s trip, records show the state did pay for Webster, who took over as first assistant attorney general after top aides accused Paxton of abuse of office last fall. Webster’s total estimated travel costs topped $1,000, records show.
The agency did not answer questions about whether Webster went to the Jan. 6 rally with Paxton, and The News was unable to verify his attendance through Webster’s social media accounts, which are private.
Webster’s calendar also does not note whether he attended the rally. His schedule for that day included Paxton’s media appearances, which dealt almost exclusively with the attorney general’s appearance at the rally with Trump.
State Sen. Angela Paxton, a Republican who represents parts of Collin County, appeared at the rally alongside Attorney General Paxton, her husband. She also did not respond to questions sent to her Senate office about who paid for her trip to Washington.
While she did not give a speech at the rally, Sen. Paxton shot a live video from Washington that day.
“Thousands of people are here to speak their mind and speak their voice and exercise their constitutional right to assemble and protest regarding the election law that was not followed in multiple states,” she said. “Do pray for America.”
It’s not clear when Paxton arrived in Washington or what he was doing in the days leading up to the rally.
Paxton was out on “personal business” Monday, Tuesday and until 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6., his calendar shows.
That morning, conservative media personalities interviewed Paxton about the upcoming event. His brief speech to the rally was later that day. Paxton’s speech was not listed on his official calendar. It’s unclear whether he appeared in his capacity as attorney general at the rally.
Speaking with his wife on stage beside him, Paxton bragged to Trump’s supporters that Texas sued to challenge election results in key states where Trump lost.
“Because we’re here today, the message goes on: We will not quit fighting,” Paxton told the crowd. “We’re Texans. We’re Americans. And we’re not quitting.”
Questioned by a state senator last week about whether he had an opportunity to ask his base to stand down when the riot began, Paxton said no.
“Angela and I left after the speeches,” Paxton said. “We went and had lunch and people did what they did.”
The insurrectionist mob was overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump backers, The Associated Press reported. Several North Texans have since been arrested on criminal charges related to their participation.
Paxton told senators the Washington trip had a state purpose. The day after the rally he met with White House officials to discuss Medicaid funding, he said, which is reflected in his calendar.
The calendar also shows Paxton had at least one other meeting scheduled that day “with DOL,” which likely refers to the Department of Labor.
Paxton also had a Zoom meeting that day with agency deputies and senior staff.
During his time in Washington, Webster also attended the labor meeting, another with a litigation chief at “DOJ,” likely referring to the Department of Justice, and he had a Texas constituent meeting, according to his calendar.
But most of Paxton’s scheduled events in Washington were media appearances, according to his calendar.
The day after the rally, Paxton appeared on Fox News and expressed sympathy for Trump supporters left upset after the election while saying a small number of people “crossed the line” on Jan. 6 and “should be held accountable.”
“There is a lot of frustration in this country from people who do think that the election wasn’t done appropriately in many states,” Paxton said. “It is going to create dissension in our country.”
He added that he didn’t believe Trump’s remarks at the rally were meant to incite violence: “I certainly didn’t take it that way.”
Friends, this isn’t the time to be complacent. If you are ready to fight for the soul of this nation, you can start by donating to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by clicking the button below.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.