Trump’s election fight puts embattled Texas AG in spotlight

National
Ken Paxton

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. Paxton is facing calls for his resignation and accusations of crimes by his own staff over an investigation sought by one of the Republican’s wealthy donors. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A lawsuit that President Donald Trump is now calling “the big one” in his effort to overturn the outcome of the presidential election is helmed by an embattled Texas ally who is likewise trying to reverse his own skidding fortunes.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate Electoral College votes in battleground states that Trump lost — a challenge dismissed by legal experts as frivolous and rebuked by state officials in Michigan, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But the lawsuit is succeeding in bringing Paxton back into the embrace of the GOP at a time when his former inner circle has accused him of bribery and the FBI is investigating his dealings with a donor.

On Wednesday, 17 Republican-led states threw support behind Paxton’s lawsuit that rehashes numerous disproven and unsupported allegations of illegal voting. Both Republican Senate candidates in a pair of high-stakes Georgia runoff elections in January are also on board and Trump’s legal team — which has lost at every turn in an attempt to keep him in power — asked to intervene as well.

“This is the big one. Our Country needs a victory!” Trump tweeted.

Legal experts have predicted that the Supreme Court will reject the case, but for now Paxton’s return to the spotlight reflects Trump’s continuing power to elevate even troubled members of his party who rush to his defense. Although one Republican congressman, Rep. Chip Roy, called on Paxton to resign before the election, prominent GOP leaders have not gone farther than express concern over allegations that Paxton abused his office to benefit a donor.

“He’s playing to the hometown crowd with that lawsuit,” said Bill Miller, a longtime GOP political consultant in Texas who talks with Paxton.

Miller said it would “be a disservice” to suggest Paxton’s suit was motivated by politics. But, he said, “I think anything he does to change the narrative about himself is a good idea. And if it’s something associated with being attorney general, that’s best of all.”

Paxton has spent most of his six years in office under felony indictment alleging he defrauded investors in a high-tech startup before becoming Texas’ top law enforcement officer in 2015. The criminal charges — which carry a potential sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison — threatened to sink Paxton’s political career just as it was taking off, but the case has stalled in court, partly because of legal challenges by his conservative allies.

The latest accusations — leveled by his own senior staff — could spell more legal trouble.

Seven of his former top aides signed a letter in October saying they reported their boss to law enforcement over potential crimes including abuse of office and bribery. The allegations center around his relationship with a donor who gave him $25,000 in 2018 and wanted Paxton to investigate claims that the FBI and a federal judge broke the law over a search of his home.

Each of Paxton’s accusers has resigned, been put on leave or been fired since reporting him. Paxton, who has broadly denied wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty in the securities fraud case, has said he will not resign. His office did not respond to a request for an interview or questions about why the state’s solicitor general, who normally argues cases before the Supreme Court, did not attach his name to the case.

Texas has been at the forefront of increasing voting restrictions for a decade and was one of the few states that did not expand mail-in voting access this year because of the pandemic. Some Paxton critics suggested he was angling for a preemptive pardon in leading the lawsuit, while officials in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Michigan called the challenge meritless.

“I feel sorry for Texans that their tax dollars are being wasted on such a genuinely embarrassing lawsuit,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul tweeted.

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Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.

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