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Ken Paxton refuses to release messages sent while at pro-Trump rally on day of US Capitol riot, report says

The Statesman, along with several other news organizations in Texas, have collaborated on obtaining these emails and text messages.

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office has refused to release all messages he sent or received while in Washington for the pro-Donald Trump rally on Jan. 6, according to KVUE's media partners at the Austin American-Statesman.

Shortly after Donald Trump spoke at the rally, supporters sieged the U.S. Capitol. Paxton was one of many political officials in attendance and spoke that day. 

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The Austin American-Statesman, along with several other news organizations in Texas, has requested copies of the attorney general's work-related communications, the Austin-based newspaper reported. The Statesman, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune have collaborated on obtaining these emails and text messages, but Paxton's office has refused to release them, according to the Statesman.

The news outlets requested the messages under the Texas Public Information Act, which guarantees the public's right to government records – even if those records are stored on personal devices or online accounts of public officials.

According to the Statesman, the collective of news outlets discovered that Paxton's office has no policy governing the release of work-related messages stored on Paxton's personal devices. 

Paxton's duty as Texas attorney general is to oversee an office of lawyers who determine which records are public or confidential under the law. So, whenever public records requests are sent to governmental entities – such as police departments or the governor’s office – they may seek Paxton's office for approval to withhold records from the public.

The Statesman reported that the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News requested all of Paxton's messages from Jan. 5 to Jan. 11., and Lauren Downey, the public information coordinator at the attorney general's office, told the publications she didn’t need to release the records because they are confidential attorney-client communications. 

James Hemphill, a lawyer and open records expert who serves as a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, told the Statesman the records described by Downey appear to fall under confidential communications. However, Hemphill added it was odd that Paxton would "have no other routine emails or texts during that six-day time frame that could be released."

"It would seem unusual for every single communication made by any kind of lawyer to be subject to attorney-client privilege," Hemphill told the Statesman.

The Morning News also reportedly filed other requests regarding Paxton's communications while he was in the nation's capital, including for messages sent through encrypted apps. Downey told the Statesman there were no public records that fit that description. 

Responses to records requests from other state entities, coupled with the response from Paxton's office, have raised some questions about the agency's record-keeping practices. 

To highlight the disparity, the Morning News also reportedly requested communications from Utah about the attorney general’s trip to that state last month during the winter power outages in Texas. Utah officials sent the Morning News a screenshot of a few texts exchanged between Paxton, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and a third unnamed individual discussing their plans, according to the Statesman. The screenshot came from the unnamed person and not from either Reyes or Paxton.

The Morning News reportedly made the exact same request to Paxton's office, and officials turned over a copy of the screenshot Utah had provided, but not one showing the exchange from Paxton. After a Morning News reporter texted a work-related question to Paxton's cell phone, the newspaper later requested all text messages related to state business sent to that number on that same day. 

Paxton's office responded to the Morning News saying there were no messages, even though the Morning News reporter had just sent a text to that number earlier in the day. The newspaper asked why their reporter's text to Paxton's number wasn't turned in, and a spokesman told them they did not need to keep it.

"Unsolicited and unwelcome text messages to personal phones do not fall under the records retention law," the spokesman said.

Read the Statesman's full report here.

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