Ken Paxton tried to hide his affair from his wife and constituents. It could be his undoing.

In September 2018, Attorney General Ken Paxton assembled his staff to deliver a fateful confession.

Two months before Election Day – and holding hands with his wife, State Senator Angela Paxton – the attorney general reportedly told them about an extramarital affair. He said it was over and vowed to get back to his marriage.

But Ken Paxton didn’t — the first in a series of momentous decisions that Texas House impeachment executives say sparked a chain of alleged crimes and cover-ups that culminated five years later in one of the most dramatic moments in Texas political history. The once-a-century impeachment proceedings The trial, which begins Tuesday, is expected to focus on Paxton’s infidelity and could unearth the sordid details of the staunch Christian conservative’s life as he sits yards from his wife and her 30 Senate colleagues who are on the jury will decide the fate of her husband .

House impeachment executives argue that Paxton, driven largely by his desire to continue and cover up the rendezvous, went to great lengths, punishable – and possibly criminal – efforts to keep the treason from his wife and the deeply religious constituents who supported him , to hide political life for two decades.

Citing nearly 4,000 pages of documents released last month, impeachment officials allege that Paxton repeatedly abused his office to help real estate investor Nate Paul’s faltering business amid an FBI raid, looming bankruptcies and a litany with it related lawsuits to help. In return, Paul reportedly hired Paxton’s girlfriend so she could move to Austin and helped Paxton meet her secretly through a secret Uber account shared by the two men.

House impeachment executives argue that Paxton had every reason to keep the matter secret. They point to his apparent burner phones and secret email addresses as evidence that he feared infidelity could destroy his political career.

“The affair is important because it affects Ken Paxton’s political strength,” said Rep. Ann Johnson, a Houston Democrat on the Paxton investigative committee, in May. “He knows he has ‘family values’ when dealing with his parents.” He is a Christian man. And the thought of exposing the affair will endanger him with his base.”

Angela Paxton, a McKinney Republican who will be present at the trial but not allowed to vote, could not be reached for comment last week. Ken Paxton’s attorney, Tony Buzbee, declined a request for an interview and did not respond to a list of questions, citing a non-disclosure order issued ahead of the Senate hearing.

“Sounds like you think your house isn’t made of glass and you have a sack full of rocks to throw,” Buzbee added in an email.

“Great. She’s back.”

In interviews with House impeachment executives, Paxton’s former top MPs — as well as his former personal adviser — said his affair was well known.

A congressman recalled that a “verbal altercation” broke out between the alleged girlfriend and Angela Paxton at a coffee shop in the Texas Capitol. Others said they “heard rumours” or were told about the affair directly by Paxton’s confidants, but were initially led to believe it ended in September 2018 after Paxton reportedly confessed to a confession and recommitted to his wife .

It’s unclear when and how Paxton met the woman or the affair began. Employment records indicate that she served as San Antonio district director for Senator Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, from April 2014 to December 2019. The woman moved to Austin around June 2020 to work at Paul’s company, according to tenancy and employment records. Campbell declined to comment.

In an affidavit, Paul said he hired her on Paxton’s recommendation. She earned an annual salary of $65,000 and reported directly to Paul. Days after Paxton’s girlfriend started her new job, Paxton began directing his senior deputies to meet with Paul about his legal troubles, a pattern that would continue throughout the summer. Paul claimed he was the victim of two vast but separate conspiracies: one involving police searching his home and the other an alleged scheme by Austin businessmen working with a federal judge to stealing some of his possessions.

Agency staff said Paxton regularly flouted them or ignored their concerns about Paul, whom they had warned was a “crook” and who misled Paxton into being unfairly targeted. Instead of heeding her many warnings, MPs said Paxton kept doing whatever it took to help Paul. Among other moves that alerted top personnel, Paxton allegedly provided Paul with sensitive information about an FBI raid on Paul’s business and home, instructed employees not to assist law enforcement in investigating Paul, and despite objections, posed more experienced Law enforcement officers hired a young, inexperienced Houstonian, an attorney from outside the agency, to investigate Paul’s opponents.

“His obsession with everything to do with Nate Paul was so obvious that it really shocked me,” said James Brickman, who served as assistant attorney general for policy and policy initiatives and later reported Paxton to the FBI.

Meanwhile, Paxton and Paul continued to share a secret Uber account under the assumed name “Dave P.” That they met secretly, sometimes after Paxton left his security agency.

Paxton also used the Uber account to visit the woman’s Austin home a dozen times beginning in August 2020, according to records released last month. Around the same time, Paxton’s personal adviser told House investigators that he saw the attorney general and the woman at the Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa, where Paxton was staying while his Austin home was being remodeled — allegedly at Paul’s expense.

“No words were said,” the aide recalled of the interaction. “Paxton walked out, shook my hand, shook my father’s hand and the lady walked out without acknowledging us or saying anything.”

He later reported the conflict to a senior Paxton adviser, who replied, “Great. She is back.”

By the fall of 2020, Paxton’s deputies had come to believe he was taking bribes from Paul. On October 1, seven of them told Paxton this they had reported him to prosecution. At 10:39 p.m. the next day, Paxton took his final Uber ride to the woman’s Austin home.

Christian values

David Brockman, a nonresident researcher at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Religion and Public Policy, said Paxton had clear reasons for hiding his infidelity.

“Evidence of an extramarital affair would be considered hypocritical by his supporters,” he said. “He has presented himself as a conservative Christian, a defender of biblical values ​​and a guardian of conservative Christian sexual morals. So there’s quite a push to keep it a secret.”

Since its inception, Paxton’s political life has been inseparable from the state’s conservative Christian voting bloc. He said he first ran for office at the urging of Kelly Shackleford, whose First Liberty Institute brought the charges Christianity in public life. And Paxton attributes his first election to the Texas House of Representatives in 2002 to a “very simple strategy: Get the church to vote.”

In his 12 years as a legislator – first as a member of the House of Representatives and then for two years in the Texas Senate – Paxton has been a staunch advocate of christian concerns, She advocated bans on Planned Parenthood sex education materials in public schools and co-authored a state amendment to the constitution that would have banned businesses and individuals from being sued for refusing to provide services on religious grounds.

Religious conservatives returned the favor in 2014 by backing Paxton’s bid for attorney general and, with the help of far-right West Texas oil money, installed him to statewide office, though he was initially decried as an outsider.

As Attorney General, Paxton continues to champion conservative Christian legal and political causes: He has staffed the agency with like-minded Christian lawyers — including a former First Liberty Institute attorney who later reported Paxton to the FBI for bribery. And he has made office the spearhead of conservative Christianity more broadly culture war.

“Christian conservatives have supported Paxton from day one, and they have done so because he has consistently stood up for our principles, our values ​​and our beliefs,” said Jared Woodfill, a longtime leader of ultraconservative and anti-LGBTQ+ movements in Texas. who it is now, participated in a political action committee that defended Paxton before his Senate trial.

Her unwavering support has benefited Paxton, who has always turned to conservative Christians during difficult times. Citing biblical figures who overcame persecution, he claims his legal and political troubles are merely retaliation for his religious views — a message that worked well with an audience prepared by years of “culture war” rhetoric arrives

But while Paxton’s 2015 securities fraud charges could be explained by his defense attorneys as a nefarious conspiracy by an anti-Christian deep state, an affair would attack the personal responsibility and piety emphasized by Paxton’s deeply religious base.

That much has been made clear in recent months, as the suspended attorney general’s worries have dominated headlines and some conservative Christians have drawn a direct line between Paxton’s infidelity and his fitness for office.

“It’s not my place to say who is or isn’t Christian,” Konnni Burton, a conservative former Texas senator, wrote on social media last month. “But my personal opinion is that if a politician professes Christian values ​​but is willing to break those values ​​to his own spouse, he will certainly break a promise to me as a voter.”

It is also evident that the impeachment process has taken a political toll since it began in May. Polls released Friday by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin show Paxton’s approval rating among Republicans has fallen 19 percentage points to 46% since April, a two-year low. Paxton’s rejection rate has also more than tripled since December, standing at 23% in August. Meanwhile, a majority of Republicans said they didn’t know whether Paxton had taken any action that would justify his impeachment, compared with 24% who said yes and 32% who said no.

Doug Page is among those who say they want Paxton held accountable for possible wrongdoing. He first met the attorney general in 2015 when Paxton, who was weeks away from his securities fraud charge, was speaking at the First Baptist Church of Grapevine, where Page is the senior minister. Paxton did not address his legal issues at the time, but thanked his fellow Christians for their prayers and called on the Southern Baptist church to “stand up and speak out against wrongdoing” after pointing out biblical figures who had been persecuted.

Eight years later, Page is doing just that.

“If Mr. Paxton is found guilty by the Texas House and Senate, he should be impeached and, if necessary, impeached,” Page said this week. “I am for redemption and reconciliation, but our decisions have consequences. I hope that whatever the outcome, Mr. Paxton will surround himself with people who will encourage him to walk with Jesus.”

Other conservative Christians are more skeptical, believing Paxton is the victim of the same type of Deep State witch hunt they say was responsible for the impeachment and indictment of former President Donald Trump. And they are willing to look past the moral failings of both men as they live up to conservative Christian priorities — a line of thought dating back millennia to figures like King David and Cyrus the Great, who the Bible says, despite their many sins, were used by God .

If God and Angela forgive Paxton, they say, then so should they.

“I don’t think there’s a politician out there, let alone a person who’s perfect or hasn’t made any mistakes,” Woodfill said. “Even assuming it’s true that he made a mistake – which he and his wife appear to have reconciled – I and conservative Christians across the state look to what he did as an elected official and what he did as attorney general has .”

Zach Despart contributed to the coverage.

The full program is now LIVE for Texas Tribune Festival 2023, taking place September 21-23 in Austin. Discover the program with more than 100 unforgettable talks at TribFest. Panel topics will include the biggest races of 2024 and the future, how major cities are changing in Texas and across the country, the integrity of upcoming elections, and more. Check out the full program.

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