Paxton whistleblower Blake Brickman on why he and fellow staff are taking their case back to court

Brickman said he feels senators bowed to political pressure when they voted to acquit Paxton during the impeachment trial.

By Sarah AschOctober 6, 2023 11:08 am,

A fissure in the Texas Republican party exploded into the open with the House impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Senate’s decision not to convict

The head of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, excoriated his colleagues on the House side and drew into sharp relief the intra-party fight between Texas’ traditional, more business-focused Republicans and a far right wing of the party. 

This all came out into the open after eight top staffers in the Attorney General’s Office reported Ken Paxton to the FBI, alleging bribery and abuse of office. Their report, filed just over three years ago, kicked off a political and legal fight still ongoing despite the Senate impeachment acquittal. 

The whistleblowers either quit or were fired after reporting their concerns to the FBI, and four of them sued Paxton for wrongful termination and retaliation. The whistleblowers have not given up their fight. They have vowed to expose Paxton’s alleged wrongdoing by forcing him and others to testify. 

» RELATED: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted and will remain in office. What now?

Blake Brickman served as deputy attorney general for policy and strategy under Paxton, and he’s one of the whistleblowers involved in the lawsuit. He said, in his eyes, a big reason the impeachment trial did not result in Paxton’s removal from office was because Paxton was not forced to take the stand. 

“The judge in this case was Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and the single biggest thing that happened in the impeachment trial is Lt. Gov. Patrick protected Ken Paxton. How did he do that? He ruled that Ken Paxton did not have to testify,” Brickman said. “Attorney General Paxton never had to take the stand, never had to answer questions about the wrongdoing that he did and never had to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights, you know, in front of the jury, which in this case was 31 state senators.”

Michael Minasi / KUT

Ken Paxton, center, with his attorneys Tony Buzbee, left, and Dan Cogdell are seen in the Texas Senate chambers on the first day of his impeachment trial on September 5, 2023.

Brickman said he felt the strongest evidence against Paxton during the impeachment trial was the timing of Paxton’s payments on his home renovation. Back in 2020, when the whistleblowers reported Paxton, Brickman said they knew that Austin businessman and Paxton donor Nate Paul was involved in those renovations somehow. 

“We knew this man, Nate Paul, was involved in the renovations of Ken Paxton’s home. We knew that Ken Paxton moved back into that home in July of 2020,” Brickman said. “We reported Ken Paxton to the FBI on Sept. 30, 2020. We notified Ken Paxton that we did that on Oct. 1, 2020. And not until that happened did Ken Paxton make a payment on his home renovation. So almost three months after he moved in.

We now know that the payment went to a company called Cupertino Builders, which is run by a guy named Raj Kumar, who we now know is a convicted felon who has been accused of making fraudulent transfers to Nate Paul.”

» RELATED: The strangest, most eye-opening moments from Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial

Brickman said he felt the senators who voted not to convict Paxton made the decision at least in part for political reasons. 

“I think there was tremendous political pressure put on 16 Republican senators,” he said. “Unfortunately, right now in the Republican Party, there is a small but very vocal and very well-funded group of people on the far right that threaten primaries of Republicans. And I think that most of these Republican senators were thinking more about that than they were about the evidence in front of them.”

Brickman said he wanted to work for the Attorney General’s Office, despite the longstanding federal indictment against Paxton for securities fraud, based on the talent of the other lawyers who worked there.

“The people that worked in the Attorney General’s Office when I was there were extremely well-respected conservative lawyers. I am a conservative Republican. The reputation of the people in that office… We’re talking about former Supreme Court clerks, very high level conservative legal minds. And that’s why I went to work there,” he said.

“Unfortunately, after we were fired and other people left, the quality of lawyers in that office has gone down significantly. But under Greg Abbott, under the first five years of the Ken Paxton administration, the quality of lawyers in that office was extremely high. And that’s what attracted me to being there.”

Brickman said he and other staff members repeatedly told Paxton to stop interacting with Paul and Paxton brushed them off. 

“My office was like ten feet away from Ken Paxton’s office. We were the people in his inner circle, his most hand-picked lieutenants. And for him to go out and say now that this is some political witch hunt… This investigation started when Donald Trump was president and arose out of the allegations of Ken Paxton’s hand-picked top eight people,” Brickman said.

“So the idea that this is somehow political is absolutely outrageous. I know that at the impeachment trial, Ken Paxton’s lawyers tried to make that argument, but that argument will never fly in an actual courtroom… Because this has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with the rule of law and upholding it.”

Brickman also clarified that the reason he and other whistleblowers encouraged the state to pay for the settlement is because, under Texas law, that is how whistleblowers can seek financial damages. 

“There is a law on the books, the Texas Whistleblower Act, that protects public employees who make a good faith report of wrongdoing from being terminated. The way it works is when an employee is illegally terminated like we were, you file a lawsuit against the agency. So in our case, the Office of Attorney General,” Brickman said.

“The people that pay for the actual judgment, like any other judgment against the State of Texas, are the taxpayers of Texas. And that payment has to be approved by the Legislature. So that’s how the law works.”

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The settlement is no longer on the table, since the whistleblowers are taking their case back to court. The Texas Supreme Court ruled to let the case continue and Brickman said he expects to have a trial in Travis County. 

“We think that we will ultimately get a judgment in our favor that will be far in excess of the $3.3 million that we initially preliminary agreed to. And let me just say this: Our case, for me personally, has never just been about money,” he said.

“I ultimately signed the preliminary settlement agreement only because I demanded that Ken Paxton apologize to me and my eight colleagues for calling us ‘rogue employees.’ I demanded that he admit that the law applies to him, that the whistleblower law applies in Texas… Because my concern here is I don’t want what’s happened to me and my seven colleagues to ever happen to any public servant in Texas again in the future.”

The Texas Standard reached out to the Attorney General’s Office for an interview and has not yet received a response.

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