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Top Texas GOP Officials Offer Measured Support for Paxton

When Gov. Rick Perry was indicted last year, there was a groundswell of support among Republicans for Perry. The response to Ken Paxton's indictment — particularly among some top state GOP leaders — has been more restrained.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

When Gov. Rick Perry walked out of a Travis County facility a year ago after being booked on felony counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant, he was greeted by a rally of supporters. From around the country, the indictment drew ridicule from Republican officials and even a few Democrats.

"Rick Perry is a friend, he’s a man of integrity – I am proud to stand with Rick Perry," U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said on Facebook at the time, while calling the indictment "highly suspect." 

The support Perry drew then provides a sharp contrast with the handful of measured responses offered Monday by top Republican leaders to the unsealing of the indictment against Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton was released from the Collin County Jail on $35,000 bond related to two counts for securities fraud, and another for acting as an investment advisor or representative without registering.

“I trust that our nation's legal system will proceed fairly and appropriately to investigate allegations of criminal violations against Attorney General Paxton," said Cruz, who publicly praised Paxton during last year's attorney general campaign. "It is important both for the people of Texas and for General Paxton that he be treated fairly and in accordance with the law.”

Cruz's cautious response echoed those offered Monday afternoon by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“Everyone is entitled to due process under the law,” Abbott said in a short statement. “As a former judge, I recognize this is the first step in a lengthy process and will respect that process as it moves forward.”

"It is important to recognize that an indictment is not a conviction,” added Patrick. “Under our Constitution, every person is innocent until proven guilty. I am confident our judicial system will weigh all the facts and applicable law with a blind eye for justice and Ken Paxton, like anyone else, will be afforded his day in court."

House Speaker Joe Straus did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Other Republicans offered a more full-throated support for Paxton on Monday while raising questions about the integrity of the legal process that had led to the indictment.

“Some of the outrageous events surrounding this sloppy process certainly do not typify the level of quality that Texans expect from our judicial system,” said Aaron Whitehead, communications director for the Republican Party of Texas. “Ken Paxton, like all Americans, deserves to have his say in a court of law, rather than be judged in a court of public opinion that is presided over by liberal interest groups.”

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said he believed the prosecution against Paxton was politically motivated. Hughes, a longtime friend of Paxton’s, also represented Paxton in a 2009 case in which a couple accused Paxton of common law fraud and negligent representation related to a doomed real estate investment scheme. The case was dismissed but prompted investigations that led to Monday's indictment.

“When you stick your head up out of the foxhole and you show some leadership, you get shot at,” Hughes said. “I don’t believe Ken has done anything wrong.”

Hughes pointed to a Saturday New York Times story that revealed details of the indictment before it was unsealed to suggest that the special prosecutors appointed to the case, Houston attorneys Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice, have a political agenda. Hughes echoed comments made in recent weeks by Anthony Holm, Paxton’s spokesman.

“How can anybody get a fair trial when the information is leaked to the national media before the accused even knows what’s in it?” Hughes said. “There’s a motive other than justice here.”

Schaffer and Wice have previously pushed back against suggestions that their case is about anything but the law.

Hughes added that he believed the case should have been assigned to another county district attorney — rather than to special prosecutors — when the Collin County district attorney recused himself. 

“They’re working by the hour, billing the taxpayers. They have every incentive to drag this out,” Hughes said. “This seems to me, this could have been handled by another prosecutor. … I think that’s something the Legislature might need to look at.”

Asked if he would be involved in Paxton's legal defense again, Hughes said, “I’m not an attorney of record in this case as of today." Hughes declined to say if that meant he would be involved in the case in the future.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

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