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Letter: Top deputies accuse Texas attorney general of crimes

FILE - State Attorney General Ken Paxton waits on the flight line for the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence at Love Field in Dallas, Sunday, June 28, 2020. Several top deputies of Texas attorney general have accused him of crimes including bribery and abuse of office in an internal letter saying theyve reported the actions to law enforcement. In a brief letter, seven senior lawyers wrote that they reported Paxton for potentially breaking the law in his official capacity as the current Attorney General of Texas." Paxtons defense attorney in the securities case, declined to comment on the new allegations Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Paxton pleaded not guilty in that case but it is not clear whether the new accusations are related. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
FILE - State Attorney General Ken Paxton waits on the flight line for the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence at Love Field in Dallas, Sunday, June 28, 2020. Several top deputies of Texas attorney general have accused him of crimes including bribery and abuse of office in an internal letter saying theyve reported the actions to law enforcement. In a brief letter, seven senior lawyers wrote that they reported Paxton for potentially breaking the law in his official capacity as the current Attorney General of Texas." Paxtons defense attorney in the securities case, declined to comment on the new allegations Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020. Paxton pleaded not guilty in that case but it is not clear whether the new accusations are related. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DALLAS – Several top deputies of Texas' attorney general have reported to law enforcement that their boss engaged in crimes including bribery and abuse of office, according to an internal letter.

In a single-page letter to the director of human resources in the attorney general's office, the seven senior lawyers wrote that they reported Republican Ken Paxton to “the appropriate law enforcement authority” for potentially breaking the law “in his official capacity as the current Attorney General of Texas.”

“We have a good faith belief that the attorney general is violating federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses,” the Thursday letter states. It was first reported jointly by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV and subsequently obtained by The Associated Press.

The letter does not offer specifics but nonetheless stands as a remarkable accusation of criminal wrongdoing against the state's top law enforcement officer by his own staff, including some longtime supporters of his conservative Christian politics. It could deepen legal trouble for Paxton, who has spent nearly his entire five years in office under felony indictment for securities fraud, although the case has stalled for years over legal challenges.

Paxton pleaded not guilty in that case, and it is not clear whether the new accusations are related. Philip Hilder, the attorney general's defense lawyer, declined to comment Sunday.

“We’re going to look into these allegations,” Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutor on the securities case, said of the new claims of wrongdoing by Paxton. He declined to elaborate.

In a statement to the American-Statesman Paxton's office said: “The complaint filed against Attorney General Paxton was done to impede an ongoing investigation into criminal wrongdoing by public officials including employees of this office. Making false claims is a very serious matter and we plan to investigate this to the fullest extent of the law."

It's unclear what investigation is being referenced in the statement. Paxton's office did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment Sunday.

“These allegations raise serious concerns,” Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, said in a Sunday statement. He declined to comment further “until the results of any investigation are complete.”

“Indicted Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is the top law enforcement official in the state," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Yet, he has proven for years that he cannot follow the law himself.”

The letter was signed by the deputy attorneys general for policy, administration, civil litigation, criminal investigations and legal counsel, as well as Paxton’s first assistant, Jeff Mateer, and Mateer's deputy. None of them responded to messages seeking comment Saturday or Sunday.

Mateer resigned from Paxton's office Friday to rejoin a prominent conservative nonprofit law firm in the Dallas-area, according to the Dallas Morning News. The First Liberty Institute did not immediately respond to an inquiry about him Sunday.

Paxton, who is in his second term, has raised his national profile as a conservative crusader under President Donald Trump— including leading Lawyers for Trump, a group supporting the president's reelection. He also spearheaded a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall and was previously chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association. A spokeswoman for the association declined to comment.

Michelle Lee, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s San Antonio office, said it’s agency policy not to comment on whether it has received allegations of crimes or is investigating. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Western District of Texas declined to comment.

Bill Miller, a veteran Texas political consultant who’s worked for Republicans and Democrats, said he couldn’t think of any precedent for a current elected leader’s staff accusing them of crimes.

“It’s like, wow,” he said.