The Department of Justice has taken over the corruption case against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, recusing federal prosecutors in Texas who had long handled the investigation.
Texas state prosecutors handling a separate securities fraud case against Paxton confirmed that DOJ took the federal corruption case away from the U.S. attorney’s office in Texas in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday. Paxton, a popular attorney general who was re-elected to a third term on Nov. 8, 2022, has been accused of bribery and abusing his office to help one of his wealthy campaign donors, who also employed a woman with whom Paxton acknowledged having had an extramarital affair.
Paxton has denied all charges of wrongdoing.
The federal investigation into Paxton is now being led by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which prosecutes allegations of official misconduct against elected leaders at the local, state and federal level. The change comes days after Paxton agreed to apologize and pay $3.3 million in taxpayer money to four former staffers who lost their jobs after they reported him to the FBI in 2020.
The two state prosecutors working on a separate securities fraud case against Paxton – Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer – told The Associated Press on Thursday that they were notified of the U.S. attorney’s recusal. They referred all questions to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.
It is unclear if Paxton will face charges, although The Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, reported that federal investigators in Texas who had worked the case believed there was sufficient evidence for an indictment.
It is also unclear why DOJ recused the U.S. attorney’s office in Texas, but Paxton’s attorney’s had previously accused the office of having “an obvious conflict” because of the overlapping allegations and investigations that led to the probe of Paxton.
Eight of Paxton’s senior staff accused him of crimes in 2020 after the attorney general hired an outside lawyer to look into an Austin real-estate developer’s claims of wrongdoing by FBI agents and federal prosecutors who were separately investigating the developer. Those agents and lawyers are part of the same federal prosecutorial district as the ones who came to investigate Paxton.
“It was the right thing to do,” said Dan Cogdell, one of Paxton’s defense lawyers. He said federal officials had not informed him of the move and declined to comment further.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.