Ken Paxton Refuses to Launch Messages About Attendance at Professional-Trump Rally Earlier than Jan. 6 Rebel

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The Texas Attorney General is trying to withhold any messages that Ken Paxton sent or received in Washington for the pro-Donald Trump rally that sparked a riot in the U.S. Capitol.

Several Texas news organizations have requested copies of the Attorney General’s work-related notices. The Texas Public Information Act guarantees the public the right to government records – even if those records are stored on public officials’ personal devices or online accounts.

After Paxton’s office refused to publish copies of his emails and text messages, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica, the Austin American-Statesman, the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Chronicle, and the San Antonio Express-News are working together to address them obtain the documents and review Paxton’s open records practices.

The news outlets noted that Paxton’s office, which is designed to enforce state laws on open records, does not have a policy for posting work-related news stored on Paxton’s personal devices. It’s unclear whether the office will check Paxton’s email accounts and phones to look for requested records, or whether the attorney general will determine what to hand over without outside scrutiny.

Paxton is now facing one of the most intense public inquiries of his career. The Republican attorney general is reportedly under investigation for alleged abuse of his office in support of a campaign donor. He also led a failed attempt to topple the presidential election and joined other GOP attorneys general in a lawsuit to invalidate Democrat Joe Biden’s swing state victories.

A spokesman for the attorney general said the agency follows the Texas Administrative Code, which specifies how long agencies must hold on to records, but is different from the Open Records Act. He did not answer reporters’ questions as to whether Paxton has a free hand in determining which of his communications are public and which under these rules are confidential.

The Washington trip

On January 6, Paxton spoke at the pro-Trump rally in Washington. The attorney general appeared with his wife, Senator Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, pointing out his unsuccessful legal efforts to overthrow the presidential election.

“What we have in President Trump is a fighter,” Paxton told the crowd of Trump supporters. “And I think that’s why we’re all here. We won’t stop fighting. We are Texans, we are Americans, and the fight will go on. “

Members of the crowd, disturbed by false claims of electoral fraud, later stormed the Capitol, battled riot police and threatened lawmakers.

Five people died in the violence, including a Capitol police officer.

Paxton later falsely blamed Antifa, a left-wing anti-fascist movement, for the violence, claiming that Trump supporters were not responsible for the uprising. Federal prosecutors have indicted more than 300 people in connection with the riot, alleging that some have ties to white supremacy groups. FBI Director Christopher Wray said investigators had found no evidence that members of the Antifa attacked the Capitol.

Amid a massive FBI investigation into the Capitol riot, the public was excited to see why and how their elected officials attended the rally. Paxton has refused to post his announcements about the event, which may shed some light on his real-time response to the uprising that booked him to speak for the rally and covered his travel expenses.

As the Texas Attorney General, Paxton oversees a law firm that determines which records are public and confidential under the law. Any government agency in Texas, from the police department to the governor’s office, must obtain agency approval to withhold records from the public.

The Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News requested all news from Paxton January 5-11. Lauren Downey, the public information coordinator for the attorney general’s office, said she does not need to publish the records because they are confidential attorney-client communications.

Downey asked the agency’s pending files department for confirmation, arguing that the news was communication between the attorney general’s senior management and his law enforcement department to discuss litigation, as well as texts between Paxton and an attorney general in the attorney general regarding “legal services to the state.” “

The Open Records Department has 45 business days to decide whether to make the notices available to the public. That decision is still pending.

James Hemphill, an attorney and overt record expert who serves on the board of directors of the Freedom of Information Foundation in Texas, said the records Downey described appear to be classified as confidential. But it’s strange, he added, that during this six-day period, Paxton would have no other routine emails or texts to publish.

“It seems unusual for every single communication from a lawyer to be subject to legal and client law,” said Hemphill, warning that he did not see the record himself.

Downey told Chronicle that the attorney general’s office has no written policies or procedures for releasing public documents stored on Paxton’s personal devices or accounts.

No responsive records

The Morning News filed several other requests for Paxton’s communications regarding his Washington trip, including messages sent through encrypted apps.

The agency said there were no public records that matched this description. When the newspaper asked about Paxton’s communications with his senior advisor and an executive assistant who usually plans official trips, Downey said again that there were no records that could be made public.

“The (Attorney General) did not coordinate or pay for General Paxton’s trip to Washington DC in early January. As a result, our office has no information to respond to your request, ”Downey said.

Paxton did not answer any questions about who paid for their trip.

In a recent hearing, the attorney general did not directly answer questions from senators about whether he had spent taxpayers’ money on the trip.

“I haven’t personally spent any money,” he said. Paxton added that he had official business the week of the rally in Washington DC when he met with federal officials about a Medicaid program.

“I had a governmental purpose,” said Paxton. “I had meetings at the White House the next day. … That’s how I spent most of the time. “

Paxton’s agency has posted the notices of other top employees related to the trip.

First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster also traveled to Washington DC that week in January, according to calendars and travel documents The Morning News received upon request from public records. The state paid for Webster’s trip.

The agency released some of Webster’s emails and texts from that month, including the logistical planning for the Washington trip.

The Utah Trip and More

In other recent cases, responses from Paxton’s agency raised questions about the Attorney General’s own record keeping practices.

For example, the Utah Morning News requested notices of the attorney general’s trip to that state last month during the Texas winter power outages.

In response, Utah officials posted a screenshot of some of the texts exchanged between Paxton, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, and a third unnamed person discussing their plans. The messages were picked up on the unnamed person’s phone, not Reyes or Paxton.

When the newspaper made the same request to the Texas Attorney General’s office, officials handed over a copy of the screenshot Utah provided – not part of the exchange on Paxton’s device.

Downey said Paxton provided the records, but she did not answer questions about how Paxton searched his accounts or whether anyone in the office confirmed the results of the records search.

“The attorney general’s office is fully compliant with the Public Information Act,” Downey said.

A Morning News reporter also wrote a work-related question on Paxton’s cell phone in February, and the newspaper later requested all text messages relating to state affairs sent to that number on the same day.

The Texas Attorney General said there was no news. When asked why the Morning News reporter’s text wasn’t reversed, a spokesman suggested that it not be kept.

“Unsolicited and unsolicited text messages sent to personal telephones are not covered by the records retention law,” said Alejandro Garcia, director of communications for the attorney general.

Sarah Swanson, general counsel for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, said state agencies are responsible for adopting their own record-keeping plans. However, if texts are exchanged during the course of government business, those messages are considered government records, according to Swanson, and may need to be retained for a “reasonable period of time” depending on an agency’s policy.

Garcia did not answer follow-up questions about how to determine which text messages are unwanted or unwanted.

However, the agency’s own rules contain a clear warning: Do not destroy records that are subject to public requests for information.

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