Texas AG taps investigator tied to donor's defense attorney

FILE - In this June 28, 2020 file photo, Texas State's Attorney General Ken Paxton waits on the flight line for the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence at Love Field in Dallas. The lawyer Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton hired to investigate a political donor's claims of wrongdoing by the FBI has no prosecutorial experience and ties to the donors defense attorney. Paxtons hiring of an "outside independent prosecutor to probe developer Nate Paul's claims led Paxton's top deputies to accuse him of bribery and abuse of office. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez File) (Tony Gutierrez, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

DALLAS – When Texas’ attorney general needed someone to probe a claim by one of his wealthy political donors alleging crimes by the FBI, he turned to a junior Houston lawyer with no prosecutorial experience, a modest criminal defense practice and ties to the donor’s defense attorney.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said his own staff had been working to “impede the investigation” into real estate developer Nate Paul's allegations against federal law enforcement. He explained that's why he brought in an “outside independent prosecutor” to look into the case.

The move led Paxton’s top deputies last week to accuse him of bribery and abuse of office. It’s unclear what underlies these allegations, and what would have recommended Brandon Cammack to handle the fraught investigation.

But Cammack's contract shows he’s not independent of Paxton. And social media posts show Cammack and Paul’s defense attorney, Michael Wynne, are connected on Facebook and are both part of a Houston civics organization. The lawyers didn't respond to questions about their connections.

Paxton’s choice of outside counsel raises further questions about a decision that has deepened political, and possibly legal, trouble for the attorney general. Paxton rose to national prominence during his time in office but also has spent most of it maintaining his innocence in the face of a felony indictment.

Cammack told Paxton's staff in an early September email that “my firm does not have any conflicts of interest with regards to this investigation.” Paxton office did not respond to questions about the lawyer's selection. The attorney general has resisted calls for his resignation and cast blame on “rogue employees and their false allegations.”

Cammack's father said he thinks his son is being set up as a “scapegoat.”

“I think Paxton was looking for someone that could get beat up on. I think he might have been looking for an easy mark,” Samuel Cammack III said. “Brandon doesn’t even have the ability to do what Paxton was asking him to do.”

A 2015 University of Houston Law Center graduate, Cammack is being paid $300 an hour to look into the complaint from Paul, who gave Paxton a $25,000 campaign contribution in 2018. It’s unclear what the developer has alleged, but his claims came to light a year after the FBI searched his home and office.

The FBI and federal prosecutors have declined to comment.

Cammack has not responded to calls and emails from The Associated Press, but told the Dallas Morning News that Paxton reached out about the position in August and picked him after interviewing other candidates, including a former federal prosecutor. Cammack reportedly called it “an opportunity for me to do something different in my career.”

Court records show Cammack has mostly handled drunk driving and misdemeanor cases, as well as some felonies. Investigating the FBI, state police, federal prosecutors and other government officials marks a significant departure for the 34-year-old lawyer.

Mike Snipes, a former state and federal prosecutor and retired Texas judge, said Cammack obviously lacks the experience for “a matter of this gravity.” Snipes said he doesn’t know the facts of the case but generally called the idea of probing federal investigators “ridiculous.”

“That’s the kind of thing somebody will do when they’re trying to scare the FBI off their tale,” Snipes said. “Now that never works, but it’s something that someone might attempt.”

Until this, Cammack's most high-profile legal dispute came in 2018 when he sued his father for up to $200,000, claiming his dad attacked him in court and cursed at him.

Samuel denied the assault, accused his son of stealing from his law firm, where Brandon had worked, and the suit was dropped. Samuel said they’re estranged and expressed bewilderment at his son working for Paxton, saying Brandon has no political connections and “zero” relevant legal experience.

He does, however, have a link to a lawyer for Paul.

Michael Wynne, Paul's attorney and a former federal prosecutor, is the chair of the Houston Bar Association’s criminal law and procedure section, and Cammack was elected to serve in that role next. They're both set to moderate an Association education panel later this month. They are also connected on Facebook. A February post on Wynne’s page tags Cammack and shows the two lawyers posing in cowboy hats and matching blue vests with members of the Downtown Rotary Club of Houston.

Wynne did not respond to questions about his connections with Cammack but decried “blatant interference with an investigation of Mr. Paul’s complaint.”

“The fact that a detailed complaint of government impropriety is met with such forceful resistance from those entrusted with investigating the matters underscores the serious problems within the system,” he said in a Wednesday email. “This improper and illegal behavior will not be tolerated, and we plan to seek all available legal remedies.”

At least some of Cammack's investigation so far has targeted those in conflict with Paul. Last week, he issued a series of grand jury subpoenas, but one of Paxton's top deputies got them quashed by telling a judge Cammack wasn't authorized to act as a special prosecutor.

One of the subpoenas, which was obtained by the AP, went to Amplify Credit Union, which has sued Paul and his company over unpaid debt. Amplify's CEO Kendall Garrison said “Cammack delivered the subpoena in person which we found unusual.”

On Tuesday night, the attorney general's office released some correspondence with Cammack and his contract. Although the subpoena calls him an “special prosecutor,” the employment agreement says Cammack cannot bring charges and can investigate “only as directed by” the attorney general's office.

In a Sept. 3 email, a deputy attorney general who would later accuse Paxton of crimes told Cammack they needed him to identify any conflicts of interest he has in the investigation.

Cammack wrote that he had none but would “continue to look for potential conflicts that may arise in the future.” ___

Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin contributed to this report. ___

Follow Jake Bleiberg at www.twitter.com/jzbleiberg.