All seven of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s whistleblowers have resigned, been fired or put on leave
The last of the seven whistleblowers, Ryan Bangert, said he resigned Wednesday. Two others had already resigned, two more were fired last week, and two were put on leave earlier this month.
October 29, 2020
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with comment from Ryan Bangert confirming his resignation.
The last of the Paxton Seven top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of criminal violations has resigned from the agency.
Ryan Bangert, who served in one of the agency’s highest posts as deputy first assistant attorney general, resigned Wednesday, he told The Texas Tribune. The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request Wednesday seeking to confirm Bangert’s employment status.
“It has been my honor and privilege to serve alongside the men and women of the Office of the Attorney General,” Bangert said in a statement. The Dallas Morning News first reported the information.
Two of the other whistleblowers were fired last week, two more were put on leave, and two others have already resigned — leaving the sprawling agency without seven of its top officials. A spokesman for Paxton denied that the firings were retaliation, citing unspecified violations of agency policy.
Bangert and six of his colleagues alerted law enforcement weeks ago that they had a “good faith” belief that their boss had committed bribery and abuse of office by using the agency to serve the interests of a political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.
Paxton has called the employees “rogue” and their allegations “false.” But documents and media reports have shown several highly unusual instances when Paxton’s office got involved in separate legal matters that involved Paul.
The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request Wednesday seeking to confirm Bangert’s employment status.
Bangert, who was hired in 2019, served in one of the agency’s most senior posts, and leaves as the agency is hemorrhaging top staff. In addition to the seven whistleblowers, the agency recently said goodbye to Katherine Cary, its chief of staff, who resigned.
In the immediate aftermath of the accusations against Texas AG Paxton, it was Bangert who sent an agency-wide email assuring the roughly 4,000 staff members that “In light of recent events reported in the media … the executive team remains committed to serving you, this office, and the people of Texas.”
“Together, we owe a duty to this office and the people of the State, who we serve, to ensure the agency continues its important work without interruption,” he wrote the afternoon of Oct. 4, a Sunday.
Seven +1 – Last whistleblower fired from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office days after suing for retaliation
Ryan Vassar, who had served as the deputy attorney general for legal counsel, was one of eight senior aides who told authorities they believed Paxton was breaking the law — a report that has sparked an FBI investigation.
Nov. 25, 2020
The Texas attorney general’s office has fired the last remaining whistleblower who alleged Ken Paxton broke the law in doing favors for a political donor — just days after aides had sued the agency alleging they suffered retaliation for making the report.
Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel Ryan Vassar — who had already been placed on paid leave — was fired Nov. 17, according to internal personnel documents obtained by The Texas Tribune, making him the fifth whistleblower to be fired from the agency in less than a month. The three others who reported Paxton to law enforcement have resigned.
On Nov. 12, Vassar and three of his former colleagues filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Texas attorney general’s office, claiming they had suffered retaliation after they told law enforcement they believed Paxton broke the law by using the agency to serve the interests of a political donor and friend, Nate Paul.
Joseph Knight, Vassar’s attorney in the lawsuit, said the justification Vassar was given for his termination amounted to “made-up, nonsense reasons” — and that he believes the firing was an act of retaliation. Vassar was hired by the agency in 2015.
Neither the attorney general’s office nor Ian Prior, a political spokesman for Paxton, returned requests for comment on why Vassar was terminated, though Prior has said previous terminations were not acts of retaliation but rather related to policy violations.
The FBI is investigating Paxton over the allegations of the eight whistleblowers, who were all senior aides, the Associated Press reported earlier this month.
Paxton has dismissed the whistleblowers as “rogue employees” and said their allegations are “false.”
According to the lawsuit he and three other top aides filed, Vassar was tapped by Paxton to help carry out favors for Paul. One such instance came when Paxton urged members of his senior staff to release to Paul government documents that should not have been disclosed, the aides claim in their lawsuit.
“Paxton directed Vassar to find a way to release the information. Vassar struggled with this directive because allowing disclosure of the information requested by Paul would overturn decades of settled expectations among sister law enforcement agencies, compromise the [office of the attorney general]’s own law enforcement information and likely spark innumerable lawsuits challenging the newly announced application of the law,” the lawsuit claims.
Then, Paxton “personally took the file” — including documents that had been sealed by a federal court — and “did not return it for approximately seven to ten days,” the lawsuit claims.
In a statement earlier this month, Paxton said the aides’ “allegations are overblown, based upon assumptions and to a large degree misrepresent the facts.”
“Unfortunately, these attorneys chose to air their grievances through the media and through the courts,” Paxton said. “We will be fully prepared to address these allegations through the judicial system, if necessary.”
The open records incident is just one example, the former aides say, of how Paxton used the agency to serve Paul’s interests.
The full scope of the relationship between Paxton and Paul remains unclear, but the two sometimes saw each other socially, and Paul gave Paxton’s campaign $25,000 in 2018. Paul also revealed in an unrelated deposition that he hired a woman at Paxton’s recommendation, though he said doing so was not a favor to the attorney general. The woman he hired had been involved in a romantic relationship with Paxton, according to two people who learned of the affair from Paxton in 2018.
The agency took the highly unusual step of intervening in a lawsuit involving Paul and a local charity, and, aides say, Paxton pushed his staff to write a legal opinion that would help Paul stave off foreclosure sales at several of his properties.
Most strikingly, though, Paxton appointed an outside attorney to vet complaints by Paul, who claimed he had been mistreated by numerous state and federal authorities when his home and office were raided by the FBI in 2019. Top aides have said that they found Paul’s complaint meritless, but Paxton seemed unsatisfied with their investigation and hired a Houston defense attorney with five years of legal experience to probe the claims.
Vassar, as a senior aide, played a role in communicating with the attorney, Brandon Cammack, including drafting a contract for him, at Paxton’s direction, the lawsuit says.