The allegations against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton are much worse than those against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez but Fox “News” drew a false equivalency.
In case you missed it, the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives took the extraordinary measure of impeaching AG Paxton over the Memorial Day weekend.
The brief Fox discussion of Paxton
Fox News Sunday “covered” Paxton’s impeachment with the barest mention of the very long list of corruption and other charges against him (see below for those details). Viewers saw a clip of Republican Rep. Andrew Murr, chairman of the committee that investigated Paxton, speaking in favor of impeachment, saying, “The evidence is substantial. It is alarming and unnerving.”
Former George W. Bush official Michael Allen gave an overview:
ALLEN: Well, I read through the articles of impeachment. It’s very, very serious, it’s abuse of office, it’s also alleging a variety of bribes to the tune of "Please renovate my house in -- in exchange for favors." So I'm glad that the Republicans down there are acting out against one of their own because it's an abuse of trust. And it breeds cynicism in American politics. So they should prosecute it to the fullest.
That was it for the allegations. Bream jumped in to say that Paxton “has got a lot of defenders out there.” She mentioned Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz and “others who are saying it's because he's so conservative and he is going after what they call the RINO Republicans in Texas, that's why he's having this trouble. He said the same thing. He denies all the allegations and says this is just kind of a political witch hunt on me.” But, Bream also acknowledged that Republicans in the House are “leading the way.”
Bloomberg TV correspondent Annmarie Hordern noted that there have been allegations against Paxton for years and that “what seems to have done him in this time” is his request for the state to foot a bill of more than $3 million to settle a case brought against him by whistleblowers.
That was it for the Paxton discussion.
The longer Fox discussion of Menendez
Bream moved on to Menendez. Not surprisingly, she got into the nitty gritty of those allegations, though they are much fewer.
BREAM: So, let's bring it back here to the federal level, because Senator Bob Menendez, who has faced, you know, allegations and trials and things before about things, apparently may be back in the hot seat. The New York Times reporting this week, "Federal prosecutors and the FBI are investigating whether Senator Robert Menendez or his wife received unreported gifts of a luxury car and an apartment in Washington from a halal meat company that is also the focus of a criminal inquiry, two people with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday."
His spokespeople are saying this is going to wash out, there is nothing to it, he's going to be fine. They're denying the allegations. But this is not his first rodeo on this.
KEVIN WALLING (DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST): It's true, Shannon. And, of course, as you said, his spokespeople, the senator himself has said there is nothing to this. There is an investigation that is playing out. You mentioned the fact that he was cleared in 2015 of similar charges in terms of gifts being exchanged and things like that. But there is a clear line in terms of whether this senator is guilty or not based on disclosure laws and based on was there anything traded for that in terms of legislation or policy changes and things like that? I think that the process is clear and will clear the senator just as it did in 2015.
BREAM: Yes, and so folks know, there -- he had a mistrial in 2017 on corruption charges. And then before the DOJ retried him, the judge dismissed all of these charges. So, Charlie, he said this is another one of these cases where it's not going to stick.
CHARLES HURT (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Yes, it's sort of hard. I mean, you know, whether he -- he did get ultimately cleared the last time, but there is a lot of sleazy stuff that he was involved in.
Then Hurt did Fox’s right-wing fan base the favor of expressly likening Menendez to Paxton and Trump – with the suggestion that all the charges are politically motivated and it’s hard to tell which are real.
HURT: I think it's also sort of interesting, going back to the Ken Paxton situation, that -- that, you know, a lot of these allegations that he has been charged -- he has been accused of began back before -- he has won two elections since some of these first allegations have been made. And I think it sort of underscores the degree to which people -- voters have a very low regard for -- for public figures these days.
And it makes it all the worse when you have the -- what is clear weaponization of the -- this process based on politics, and we've seen this with President Trump, the allegations made against him. And it does make regular people who read stories about like, say, Ken Paxton, and they think, well, is this real or is it not real?
I’m not here to defend Menendez but there are some key differences that sharply distinguish his situation from Paxton’s. For one, Menendez is still being investigated for corruption whereas Paxton, the highest legal officer in the state, already faces criminal prosecution, and more charges may be coming. More to the point, the allegations against Paxton are far more serious. Also, a big part of the Paxton story is why his Republican colleagues overlooked his corruption until now. That was not mentioned in this discussion.
The Paxton scandal(s) explained
The New York Times has a good explainer on the Paxton situation:
In 2020, several senior members of Mr. Paxton’s staff wrote a letter urging an investigation into the actions of their boss. The aides accused Mr. Paxton of using his office to serve the interests of Nate Paul, who was a friend of the attorney general and a political donor.
Mr. Paul, a wealthy real estate investor in Austin, had contacted Mr. Paxton after his home and offices were raided by federal agents in 2019. Mr. Paxton took the unusual step, against his staff’s vociferous objections, of authorizing a state investigation of the F.B.I.’s actions. He appointed an outside lawyer who referred to himself as a special prosecutor to run it, though investigators for the House committee that conducted the inquiry into Mr. Paxton said that he had no prosecutorial experience. F.B.I. officials have not commented on their investigation.
At the time, Mr. Paxton said in a statement that he had “never been motivated by a desire to protect a political donor or to abuse this office, nor will I ever.”
In their 2020 letter, Mr. Paxton’s aides said that he had committed bribery, abuse of office and other “potential criminal offenses.” Four of the aides also brought their concerns to the F.B.I. and Texas Rangers.
According to legal filings in the case, the four aides had also relayed their concerns to the attorney general’s office; several weeks later, they were all fired. The aides filed suit, accusing Mr. Paxton of retaliating against them.
As the case proceeded, Mr. Paxton’s office produced a 374-page report that concluded, “A.G. Paxton committed no crime.” He also challenged the suit, but a Texas court of appeals ruled against him. In February, Mr. Paxton agreed to pay $3.3 million in a settlement with the four former senior aides.
In 2015, his first year in that office, Mr. Paxton was charged with felonies related to securities fraud and booked in a county jail outside Dallas. The charges stemmed from accusations that Mr. Paxton had misled investors and clients — for example, by failing to tell investors that he would make a commission on their investment — while doing securities work in the years before he became attorney general.
The articles of impeachment accused the attorney general of obstruction of justice in that case, alleging that a lawsuit, which was filed by a donor to Mr. Paxton’s campaign, effectively delayed the trial.
Justice Department officials in Washington have taken over the federal whistleblower/Nate Paul investigation. The DOJ could file its own charges against Paxton in that case.
The Menendez investigation and prior charges explained
Menendez, on the other hand is under investigation by a federal grand jury, but no charges have been filed:
From a May 11, 2023 NBC News article, called “Criminal investigation into Sen. Bob Menendez expands with new subpoenas”:
For months, Menendez has been under criminal investigation into whether he and his wife improperly took cash and gifts from the owners of IS EG Halal, an Edgewater halal meat business.
Menendez and the company’s owners have denied any wrongdoing
The newly issued subpoenas — including the one delivered to [North Bergen Mayor, Democrat Nicholas] Sacco — are unrelated to any allegations involving the meat company, the two sources said.
The sources added that the subpoenas in part seek information about certain legislative changes in New Jersey but are still part of the overall investigation focused on Menendez.
As for Menendez and IS EG Halal, questions persist about how the company won an exclusive worldwide contract with Egypt to certify halal exports — as numerous other firms’ contracts were suddenly canceled in 2019.
Menendez was indicted in 2015 but was acquitted. From The New York Times:
In 2015, Mr. Menendez, then in his second term as senator, was indicted on bribery charges in what prosecutors said was a scheme to trade political favors for luxury vacations, golf outings, campaign donations and expensive flights. Two years later, after nine weeks of testimony, a federal jury was unable to reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial.
As prosecutors were preparing to retry the case, the judge acquitted Mr. Menendez and his co-defendant, Salomon Melgen, of seven of the 18 corruption charges they faced.
The Justice Department dropped its case against Mr. Menendez.
Again, I’m not here to defend Menendez nor to minimize any of the corruption he may have been involved in. If he’s guilty, he should pay the consequences. But, frankly, his potential corruption sounds more like Clarence Thomas’ - albeit far less consequential - than Paxton’s. Funny how Thomas' name never came up in this discussion.
You can see Fox discuss Republican corruption by quickly deflecting to a Democrat below, from the May 28, 2023 Fox News Sunday.