Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr., attorney general for the Abbott administration, is the top lawyer in Texas. In May, he will stand trial for fraud and, if found guilty, faces up to 99 years in prison. Republicans have passed their fair share of inane resolutions this session (I’m looking at you, flag-man), but now the legislature has taken up another pointless, and much more nefarious, cause: Ken Paxton.
As attorney generals go, Paxton has taken unusual steps to politicize his post including earning the dubious honor of being the first state to support the immigration ban. After President Donald Trump’s election, Paxton quipped that he’d still have a job to do because he will always have the City of Austin to sue. Funny guy.
As details relating to the three felony fraud charges Paxton faces have been revealed, he has stuck to his guns. He is calling the allegations and trial a political witch hunt perpetrated by his enemies. In the face of two consecutive state trials and one federal trial being conducted by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Paxton has enjoyed incredible support among the Republican party. Elected officials out of Collin County planned ways to pressure the Collin County Commissioners Court into reducing pay for the special prosecutors trying the Paxton case. In the wake of the indictments, Paxton has been the recipient of near-record levels of fundraising. Besides the potential jail time, the charges Paxton faces appear to have been a boon to his political career.
The support that has been provided for the attorney general is unsurprising. Politicians make a living through dodging and ducking accusations leveled at them. However, the lengths that the Texas Republican party is willing to go to in order to protect Ken Paxton is absurd. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Van Taylor made ethics reform a top priority for this session while simultaneously embracing the potential ethics violations present in Paxton’s trials.
In addition to being ardent supporters of the sitting AG, the Republican party has channeled their inner Trump-denialism, arguing that the charges are phony or merely a political witch hunt. This is a position that fits in perfectly with the congressmen deriding protesting constituents as paid flacks. It fits in with the Trump White House narrative peddled day-in and day-out about the “fake news” perpetrated by mainstream media outlets. It fits in with the slow degradation of the institutions created to serve as checks and balances to power gone rogue.
The Texas Republican party has a history of intervening on Paxton’s behalf. In 2014, 14 legislators asked Dan Branch, Paxton’s rival in the primary runoff for the attorney general election, to drop out. In 2017 the whole band has come out in full force.
The all-out assault conducted by Paxton and his supporters on the trial process paints a picture that the sitting attorney general is too big to be prosecuted. Presumed innocence before proven guilty is the maxim criminal trials in the U.S. are conducted under, yet Team Paxton is strangling the proceedings in the cradle. If Republicans desperately need an issue to rally around, they should consider lobbying Apple for a Texas flag emoji.
Hasan is a business freshman from Plano. Follow him on Twitter @UzzieHasan.