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Embattled Texas AG Ken Paxton may face 2022 primary — from George P. Bush: report

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George P. Bush. (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush will “keep all options open” about a potential bid for attorney general in 2022 as current Attorney General Ken Paxton grapples with a mutiny from his senior staff and the spectre of a criminal investigation, a senior adviser for Bush said Monday.

“Several donors have asked Commissioner Bush to consider running for Attorney General in 2022 in light of the recent allegations about that office,” Ash Wright, a senior political adviser for Bush, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “Commissioner Bush has always said he will ‘keep all options open’ and that remains his policy. Like many conservative leaders around the state, he is very concerned about the allegations regarding Paxton.”

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Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush, is the only member of the well-known Republican family to currently hold office, though a cousin, Pierce Bush, ran unsuccessfully this year for the GOP nomination in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District. He was elected in 2014 to oversee the Texas General Land Office, a statewide position.

Ian Prior, a political spokesman for Paxton, said the attorney general — who has called the aides’ allegations false — “is absolutely planning on running again, is looking forward to winning a third term and is never going to stop fighting for the people of Texas.”

The Bush aide’s statement was first published by the website Texas Scorecard, which is affiliated with the hardline conservative group Empower Texans.

Seven top aides to Paxton weeks ago alerted law enforcement to potential criminal violations including bribery and abuse of office. The allegations are tied to a Paxton political donor, Nate Paul, whose interests, aides say, Paxton used his office to serve. Paxton hired an inexperienced outside attorney to vet a complaint Paul made against top state and federal law enforcement authorities and intervened, under unusual circumstances, in a lawsuit that involved Paul.

“It would be a violation of our own public responsibilities and ethical obligations to stand by while the significant power and resources of the Texas Attorney General’s Office are used to serve the interests of a private citizen bent on impeding a federal investigation into his own alleged wrongdoing and advancing his own financial interests,” the aides aides wrote in an Oct. 7 email to Paxton obtained by The Texas Tribune. “We urge you to end this course of conduct immediately.”

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Paxton has dismissed the aides as “rogue employees” and has said he will not resign his office.

Several top Texas republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, have called the allegations against Paxton concerning, but held off on saying more, saying they await the results of an investigation. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican who once served as Paxton’s top aide in the attorney general’s office, has called on his former boss to resign.

Texas Republicans have also — albeit more subtly — distanced themselves from the current Paxton scandal by returning donations from Paul, the donor at the center of the allegations. A spokesperson for Bush told The Dallas Morning News earlier this month that Bush would “fully return” a $2,500 donation Paul contributed in 2018. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Roy made similar assurances.

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Weeks after they leveled the allegations against Paxton, only one of the seven whistleblowers is currently working at the agency. Two have been placed on leave, two were fired, and two have resigned. Darren McCarty, a top aide who oversaw many of the agency’s highest-profile and most complicated cases, resigned Monday, the Dallas Morning News first reported. McCarty confirmed his resignation to The Texas Tribune but declined to comment further.

Disclosure: The Texas General Land Office has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism.

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