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Attorney General Ken Paxton said the Travis County District Attorney’s ruling that Paxton violated open records laws by withholding information relating to his trip to Washington, D.C., on the day of the Capitol insurrection was ” groundless” and that his office had fulfilled its obligation under the law.
Last week, the district attorney’s office gave Paxton four business days to deliver communications requested by major state newspapers regarding his trip or face trial.
On Friday, Austin Kinghorn, an attorney with the attorney general’s office, rejected the district attorney’s findings, saying the office had not provided any provision under the state’s open records law that had been violated and implied that the newspapers had asked to publish articles about them.
“In each case, the plaintiffs’ allegations rest on unsubstantiated assumptions and fundamental misunderstandings of the PIA. [Public Information Act] and its demands,” Kinghorn wrote. “Frustrated at discovering nothing worth reporting following “numerous open file requests to AG Paxton’s office for various documents,” the newspapers’ editors plaintiffs have sought to leverage the authority of your office to continue their fishing expedition, or worse, fabricate a dispute between our respective offices that will result in publishable content for the plaintiffs’ media.”
Ismael Martinez, spokesman for the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that the office received the letter but could not comment further.
The action by the Travis County Attorney’s Office stems from a complaint by the editors of five of the state’s major newspapers – the Austin American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News – alleging that the state’s top law enforcement official violated Texas Open Records Law by withholding communications related to Paxton’s trip to Washington, D.C., l year, which they claim are subject to disclosure.
In a joint statement, the newspapers’ editors wrote: “We are disappointed with the Attorney General’s response. We believe that these documents are public and should be made public. We hope the Travis County Attorney will continue to hold the Attorney General accountable for following our state’s open records laws and continues to uphold the public’s right to know in this case.”
Newspapers want documents related to Paxton’s communications in the days surrounding the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. On that day, Paxton spoke at a pro-Trump rally that preceded the taking of assault on the Capitol. His wife, State Senator Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, also attended the rally.
In the letter, the attorney general’s office said the newspaper‘s editors based their complaint on “knowledge of a small number of inconsequential documents which they believe should have been produced” in the public records requests. and “baseless speculation” that Paxton is not following the Open Records Law.
Kinghorn said the ‘inconsequential documents’ include a text message sent to Paxton’s personal cell phone by a Dallas Morning News reporter and two ‘spam’ emails and an internal email announcing a temporary parking lot closure. Office.
Texas Public Information Law grants the public the right to access government records, even those stored on personal devices or in a public official’s online accounts.
Normally Texas the attorney general’s office enforces the state law on open files. But when an open complaint is filed against a state agency, the law says the Travis County district attorney or attorney general must handle it. In that case, the newspapers filed their complaint with the Travis County District Attorney.
Paxton’s office dismissed the district attorney’s actions as “a bogus controversy fomented by far-left local officials because they want to rekindle hysteria over the attorney general’s Jan. 6 political speech … which doesn’t was not an official state activity”.
José Garza, the Travis County District Attorney, is a Democrat. Paxton is a Republican and a sidekick to former President Donald Trump. He was endorsed by Trump in his re-election bid, in which he faces three Republican challengers and several Democratic challengers.
In their complaint, the newspapers said Paxton was using attorney-client privilege to withhold every email and text message at the time of the Jan. 6 rally.
Newspapers also complained that the attorney general’s office had no policy for handling work-related records kept on personal devices or accounts, such as the text message the Dallas Morning News reporter sent to Paxton’s home phone. .
Reporters further complained that Paxton responded to a request for text messages regarding a trip to Utah during last year’s February freeze by providing communications from Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, but not his. When a reporter from the Dallas Morning News asked why the bureau did not provide Paxton’s text messages, an attorney for the attorney general’s office replied, “General Paxton provided the messages.”
Paxton is in the midst of his toughest re-election cycle yet.
The two-term Republican is seeking re-election this year but faces fierce competition from three GOP challengers: Lands Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert.
The three blasted the holder for multiple legal issues he faces, including a 6-year-old securities fraud case that has dogged him since his first year in office. He overcame this to be re-elected in 2018. But in October 2020, eight of his former principal aides accused him of corruption and abuse of power. A few weeks later, the eight deputies had either been sacked or resigned from the office of the attorney general.
Four of those whistleblowers are now suing Paxton under the State’s Whistleblower Act. They are asking for compensation for lost wages and other damages, and some are asking to be reinstated to their former positions.
Paxton is also reportedly being investigated by the FBI for allegations recorded by whistleblowers.
He denied wrongdoing in any of those cases.