OAN’s Brooke Mallory
4:17 PM – Monday, July 3, 2023
According to sources and internal documents obtained by Fox News, Ken Paxton, the suspended attorney general (AG) of Texas, traveled to China with other AGs on a secretive trip that included meetings with government officials, and he did so against the advice of his staff, who expressed concern about potential Chinese Communist Party influence.
The enigmatic trip, organized by the Attorney General Alliance (AGA) and the Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG), was a 10-day excursion that included stops in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, and Macau, according to an itinerary reviewed by Fox.
“My first thought was this is a terrible decision to have made,” said an insider source with knowledge of the trip, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to avoid retribution. “Under no set of circumstances, as a U.S. law enforcement official, should you willingly go to China.”
According to the insider, Paxton, who was joined on the trip by his wife Angela, a Texas state senator, was not obligated to record the trip and eventually attended despite the desires of aides who highlighted potential government influence and surveillance concerns.
The records indicated that the AGA and CWAG arranged extravagant lodging and airfare for Paxton and the other AGs who joined. Top state law enforcement officials, which included Republicans such as Paxton and Democrats such as then-Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors, met with Chinese government officials as well as private sector representatives.
Multiple people, who asked to remain anonymous in order to avoid retaliation, confirmed the veracity of the trip and papers. To protect their identities, their names have been withheld.
Along with Paxton, his wife, and Connors, the delegation included former AGs Hector Balderas of New Mexico, Mark Brnovich of Arizona, and Wayne Stenehjem of North Dakota, as well as former Connecticut Deputy Attorney General Margaret Chapple and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
Attendees such as Connors and Brnovich, for example, disclosed the trip in accordance with their state’s disclosure regulations, according to records.
The trip’s attendees also included AGA Executive Director Karen White, executives from Microsoft, Alibaba, Juul, and a variety of other corporations and legal firms.
“The international delegations are centered around matters to include Consumer Protection, organized crime, and cybercrime, all of which are priorities in other countries and the United States’ bilateral security relations,” AGA Deputy Director and General Counsel Tania Maestas told the press in a statement. “The United States and has extensive cultural ties and a mutually beneficial economic relationship and continues to build them through these delegations.”
“The China International Delegation surrounded issues like combating counterfeit goods and violations of intellectual property laws,” Maestas said. “Meetings with Chinese officials regarding counterfeit vaping products flooding the U.S. market also assists further protections for U.S. consumers as state attorneys general have regulatory and enforcement responsibility under the national tobacco settlements and ongoing matters related to vaping.”
The delegation began their journey in Beijing, where they stayed at a Four Seasons hotel.
In Beijing, the AGs met with Chinese federal court officials and Chinese prosecutors. They also met with the general counsel of the state-run China State Construction and Engineering, toured Microsoft headquarters, and took part in several historical tours, including one to Tiananmen Square.
The group also went to Hangzhou and stayed at a Sheraton resort. Their brief tour of the city was highlighted by an all-day visit to the headquarters of Alibaba, the multibillion-dollar e-commerce site that the Chinese government strictly regulates.
The delegation then reportedly flew to Shanghai, where they stayed at a Waldorf Astoria hotel. After that, their itinerary included a visit to the city, where they met with representatives from the legal firm Squire Patton Boggs Shanghai.
Their remaining hours of the trip included a visit to Macau, where they stayed at the Venetian Macau.
“The Attorney General Alliance serves as a bipartisan forum where Attorneys General work in cooperation to share ideas, build relationships, and foster enforcement through meetings, panels, working groups, and social activities,” said Maestas, AGA’s deputy director and general counsel. “Importantly, AGA provides a unique environment where attorneys general can interact and discuss policy initiatives, leading to development of key long-term relationships with both state and international partners,” she concluded.
According to its website, the AGA originated as the Conference of Western Attorneys General, which continues to function as an AGA program today. In the CWAG’s most recent financial audit, which covered its accounts for the fiscal year ending June 30th, 2022, it had roughly $7.5 million in total assets.
The AGA has been chastised for allegedly selling access to special interests, according to a report by Axios. Chris Toth, the National Association of Attorneys General’s executive director, made the remarks in his departure letter in June.
“I have become increasingly alarmed at the growing influence of lobbyist and corporate money in the attorney general arena, particularly involving entities that are being investigated and/or sued by AGs,” Toth wrote, singling out AGA and CWAG, saying it “seems to exist for no other reason than to provide access by such actors to attorneys general.”
“But the AGA funding model, e.g., a minimum contribution of $10,000 to attend their annual meeting, forecloses access to all but the most well-funded persons and groups,” Toth wrote. “There is clearly no functional vetting mechanism for who gains access and who can essentially buy programming at AGA meetings.”
Toth continued, claiming that “this places AGs in a very compromising and potentially embarrassing situation,” adding “AGA is overwhelmingly dependent on corporate and lobbyist money for its activities.”
“Dues only account for a very small share of its revenue,” Toth wrote. “That means when you go on a delegation, some lobbyist or corporation is paying for that. When you have your room and airfare paid for, some portion of that is coming from someone you are investigating or suing.”
Toth’s old organization distanced itself from his comments, stating that they were “his statements alone” and not on behalf of the National Association of Attorneys General.
After a months-long investigation, the Texas House voted in May to impeach Paxton on 20 counts of abuse of authority, obstruction of justice, bribery, and abuse of public trust. The impeachment resulted in Paxton’s automatic suspension, and he will now have to wait until the end of August for the Texas Senate impeachment trial.
Paxton’s replacement, lawyer and Republican politician John B. Scott, was appointed Texas’ new Acting Attorney General in May 2023. He previously served as the 114th Secretary of State of Texas from 2021 to 2022.
“John Scott has the background and experience needed to step in as a short-term interim Attorney General during the time the Attorney General has been suspended from duty,” said Governor Abbott. “He served under me in the Texas Attorney General’s Office and knows how the Office of the Attorney General operates.
“The ugly spectacle in the Texas House today confirmed the outrageous impeachment plot against me was never meant to be fair or just. It was a politically motivated sham from the beginning,” Paxton said in a statement after the impeachment.
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