Houston defense attorney Brandon Cammack received an unexpected call in mid-August. It was Attorney General Ken Paxton, who Cammack had never spoken to, and who asked him personally to conduct an interview for a high profile assignment.
Hiring the outside attorney to investigate a complaint filed by a political donor in Paxton was an unusual start to a process identified by staff as problematic, and it has resulted in a mutiny by many high-ranking Paxton employees and new criminal charges against the second run -term republican. Now both Paxton and Cammack are defending their roles in a scandal that has resulted in Paxton stepping down and dragging the agency to war against themselves.
Several of the agency's executives have accused Paxton of using his office and the hiring of 34-year-old Cammack to serve the interests of Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and Paxton donor, whose home and office were raided by FBI in 2019. Paxton said he hired Cammack to investigate whether arrest warrants were illegally changed when agents raided Paul's home and office.
Cammack declined to answer questions about his work for the agency or to speculate on why Paxton called him about the job. But he said he "got the opportunity" while accepting an important assignment from the state's chief attorney and that the fallout was "unexpected".
"When one of the most highly elected officials in the state approached me to conduct this investigation, he knew what my background was and what my experience with state legal claims was … I took it seriously," Cammack told The Texas Tribune Tuesday.
"I don't know about office politics … I don't know about [the relationship] between people. I was called to service. I came to service," he said.
Cammack's work for the attorney general has ended, despite saying it was "beyond" for him to know if the review would proceed in someone else's hands.
His comments came after Paxton's office announced last Friday that it would complete its investigation into Paul's claims as it could only act as "an answer to a request for assistance from the prosecutor," a rationale given by Paul's lawyer in a letter dated Nov. October questioned. Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said Paxton requested a meeting with her office over the complaint, which Paul and his attorney Michael Wynne attended, and questioned the "integrity" of the investigation and the "adequacy" of Paxton's role posed .
Wynne over the weekend accused attorneys general of ill-treating his client's complaint and treating him with open hostility before Paxton introduced Cammack as an outside investigator. Top Paxton advisors said internal investigations found Paul's complaint had no "good faith factual basis" and accused their boss of serving a donor's interest by hiring an outside lawyer to prosecute them.
Paxton first responded this week in an interview with the Southeast Texas Record, a point of sale focused on legal issues. He blamed the elderly aides who accused him of obstructing the investigation.
"I was just asking them to find out the truth," Paxton said of the aides he dismissed as "rogue employees."
And he left the door open to investigate further and said to the point of sale, "There are some red flags here that are worth investigating" and "We are exploring all options."
Paxton said he was about to put Jeff Mateer, his former senior deputy, on leave when Mateer resigned on October 2 after leveling the allegations.
"I think he found out about this and decided he wanted to go and set the narrative," Paxton told the point of sale.
Paxton has also put two of the other top aides, David Maxwell and Mark Penley, on leave, claiming they mistreated the complaint. Neither returned requests for comment this week. Mateer also did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
"It seems like my office has done everything it can to stop investigating some law enforcement agencies," said Paxton. “I can only conclude that there was an attempt to cover up the reality of what really happened. This shouldn't be a complicated investigation. "
That's why he decided to hire Cammack to "find the truth, no matter which way it falls".
Paxton's office has not responded to repeated questions from The Texas Tribune.
Legal experts have questioned the exact nature of Cammack's work – Paxton described him as both an "outside independent prosecutor" and an "independent attorney" – and asked how he could issue subpoenas that aides said "related to private business concerns Nate Paul. "
They also raised concerns that Cammack, associated with Wynne through his involvement with the Downtown Rotary Club of Houston and the Houston Bar Association, did not have the experience for such a high profile assignment.
Cammack said the subpoenas were drawn up by a Travis County judge and that he never stood before a grand jury. He filed a subpoena with the Travis County Attorney's Office and they helped issue it, he said. He declined to answer other questions about the subpoenas, including the judge and his role.
Cammack also denied the notion of lack of experience, saying he had a "successful practice" in Houston for about two and a half years, mainly doing criminal defense work. His investigations for the Attorney General's office focused on violations of the Texas Penal Code – "something I am very familiar with after handling hundreds of cases for hundreds of families here in Harris County and neighboring counties."
He said he was "not friends with Wynne" but declined to say why Wynne was present when at least one subpoena was served. Nor would he specify Paxton's involvement in his work or give details of his investigation.
Cammack said he was interviewed by Paxton and Mateer for the position of outside attorney on Aug. 26. He declined to provide details of the interview, but said he understood that there were several other candidates for the job and that Paxton had asked about his educational and professional history.
A few days later, Cammack received a call from Ryan Vassar, assistant attorney general for legal advice, about his contract, he said. The agreement, which was signed in early September, said Cammack would be given $ 300 an hour to investigate a complaint and prepare a report on possible criminal charges. It did not give him the power to prosecute or prosecute and said he could only work under the direction of the Attorney General.
Cammack's work on the case largely ended in late September when he received a cease and desist letter from Penley, the Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Justice, and then from Mateer.
He sent out a bill totaling around $ 14,000 for his services and replied that he would not take any action until clarification from Paxton, he said.