Texas AG, news media tussle over Capitol riot records

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas attorney general’s office is seeking to withhold or denying it has records related to the Republican official’s appearance at a pro-Donald Trump rally that preceded the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Ken Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, appeared at the Jan. 6 event in Washington, D.C., where the attorney general gave a speech touting his failed legal push to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Many in the crowd later marched on the Capitol, leading to the riot that temporarily disrupted Congress’ certification of the election results and left five people dead.

Several news organizations, including The Associated Press, have since requested Paxton and his staff’s communications from around that time, as well as records of the attorney general’s travel to and from Washington, under the Texas Public Information Act.

The Austin American-Statesman, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, The San Antonio Express-News, The Texas Tribune and ProPublica are collaborating in an effort to obtain these records, according to a Thursday story from the Houston and Dallas newspapers.

But the attorney general’s office has said there are no responsive records or that the requested material is exempt from disclosure. Short of a court intervening, it is Paxton’s office that determines which records are public or confidential under Texas law.

Paxton, who has faced intense public scrutiny since his staff accused him of crimes last year, defended his office’s handling of the records requests Thursday.

“Triggered Texas Fake News Cartel strikes again,” he said on Twitter. “My office follows open records law. That’s our policy. These ‘journalists’ didn’t like what they got so they complain and spread misinformation. Pathetic.”

Paxton’s office has in other instances produced and withheld documents in response to records requests.

For instance, it turned over material showing Paxton hired a supporter for a job reviewing the agency’s law enforcement division. But it declined to release the presentation that man, a former ice cream executive and Paxton’s one-time neighbor, gave on the day he was abruptly fired.

Last fall, eight of Paxton’s top deputies accused him of bribery, abuse of office and other crimes in the service of another supporter, an Austin real estate developer who employs a woman with whom the attorney general allegedly had an extra-marital affair. The FBI is investigating those allegations.

The attorney general has also spent most of his time in office under a separate felony indictment. He pleaded not guilty in 2015 to three state securities fraud charges but is yet to face trial.