Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton coordinated through encrypted communications with a lawyer he hired to investigate law enforcement officials probing one of the Republican’s wealthy donors, the lawyer testified at Paxton’s impeachment trial Tuesday.
The testimony from Brandon Cammack on the sixth day of the historic proceeding addressed a central charge against Paxton: that he abused his office to help a local real estate developer resist FBI investigation by hiring an outside attorney to look into the agents, a judge and other officials involved in the probe.
Cammack told the jury of state senators who could decide Paxton's political fate within days that he consulted with the attorney general about how to proceed. Cammack also said he kept Paxton apprised as he obtained a series of grand jury subpoenas with guidance from the developer's lawyer.
"I did everything at his supervision,” Cammack said of Paxton.
Paxton has pleaded not guilty in the impeachment. He is not required to be present for testimony and was absent Tuesday, as he has been for most of the trial.
Paxton's hiring of Cammack in 2020 prompted eight of his top deputies to report the attorney general to law enforcement for allegedly committing crimes to help developer Nate Paul. Their allegations prompted an ongoing FBI investigation of Paxton.
That year, Paul alleged wrongdoing by state and federal authorities after the FBI searched his home. Several of Paxton's former deputies have testified that they found Paul's claims “ludicrous" and not worthy of investigation.
Paul was indicted in June on charges of making false statements to banks. He pleaded not guilty.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers prosecuting Paxton's impeachment have alleged that in return for Paxton's help, Paul paid for renovations to his Austin home and employed a woman with whom the attorney general was having an extramarital affair.
Cammack testified that he met several times with Paxton, Paul and Paul's lawyer about Cammack's investigation, and regularly forwarded to Paxton information that Paul's lawyer was sending him about whom to target with grand jury subpoenas.
Subpoenas were issued for cellphone records of law enforcement officials, including an agent involved in the search of Paul’s home and the assistant to a federal magistrate, Cammack said. Paul's lawyer joined him when he served others on banks.
“He was insistent on going,” Cammack said. “I didn’t really think it was appropriate.”
One bank subpoena was aimed at information that could have been helpful to Paul in a separate civil lawsuit, said Darren McCarty, one of the deputies who reported Paxton to the FBI. McCarty said Paxton pressured his staff to intervene on Paul's behalf in the civil case. He called the subpoena “weaponizing the criminal process.”
Cammack said Paxton used the encrypted service Proton Mail to email about the investigation and that the attorney general told him to communicate over encrypted messaging service Signal.
Cammack said he learned that Paxton had a different official email address when he saw it copied on an email from a Paxton's deputy ordering Cammack to stop his investigation.
In 2020, Cammack was five years out of law school, had a modest criminal defense practice in Houston and had never before gotten grand jury subpoenas. He testified that Paxton hired him at the recommendation of Paul's lawyer, whom he said he knew socially.
The senators also heard testimony Tuesday from Joe Brown, a former federal and state prosecutor who said he talked with Paxton about the job that ultimately went to Cammack. Brown said he subsequently exchanged emails with Paxton's staff but never heard back about the job.
Cammack recalled that he was excited to be hired by Texas' top lawyer and said Paxton told him he would need “guts” for the investigation.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Dan Cogdell, Cammack said Paxton also told him he wanted to see the original version of a search warrant for Paul’s home that the developer alleged had been altered. Cammack recalled the attorney general saying, “I just want to know the truth.”
After getting the cease-and-desist letter, Cammack said U.S. Marshals showed up at his office. He said he called Paxton and the attorney general told him not to talk without a lawyer.
Cammack said he later was called to a meeting at Paul's house and Paxton was there. The attorney general spent most of the meeting outside on the phone, Cammack said, but toward the end Paxton told him to continue his investigation.
Cammack testified that Paxton and his team later fired him at an Austin Starbucks and refused to pay his $14,000 invoice.
As for the trial, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says the senator-jurors could start deliberating as soon as Thursday.