Texas Lawyer Common Ken Paxton is fairly acquainted with Catherine Engelbrecht. He’s been a visitor on her podcast, chatting about their shared ardour: rooting out voter fraud. They each have gone to nice lengths to attempt to assist former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

And when Engelbrecht, founding father of the nonprofit True the Vote, has discovered herself in sizzling water, Paxton’s workplace has turned out to be a useful ally.

Most lately, a state decide sided with Engelbrecht’s argument that it ought to be Paxton’s workplace — not a courtroom — that ought to probe allegations made by a True the Vote donor who says he was swindled out of $2.5 million.

However greater than a yr after the case was dismissed, Paxton’s workplace gained’t say whether or not it ever investigated the donor dispute.

Final month, Reveal from The Heart for Investigative Reporting discovered that True the Vote had engaged in a sequence of questionable transactions that despatched greater than $1 million to Engelbrecht and different insiders, whereas failing to again up its voter fraud claims.

Within the reporting of that story, Paxton’s workplace withheld monetary paperwork and e-mail communications from Reveal and issued contradictory and inaccurate statements in regards to the nonprofit, which has been a number one voice in driving the voter fraud motion from the political fringes to the core of GOP ideology.

The embattled legal professional basic skated through a contested primary race this yr. However he faces potential disbarment for making an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election outcomes, is under investigation by the FBI, is getting sued by whistleblowers in his workplace and awaits trial on a 7-year-old felony securities fraud indictment. Of their lawsuit, former employees members have accused him of utilizing his workplace to offer authorized favors to an ally, saying he appointed a special prosecutor to focus on adversaries of a donor who was below investigation.

His workplace advocated on Engelbrecht’s behalf earlier than the Texas Supreme Courtroom in 2016 when she obtained into authorized hassle along with her earlier nonprofit group, King Road Patriots, for being overtly political. He appeared on her podcast in July 2020, throughout which Engelbrecht mentioned she considers Paxton a pal.

“I can’t say thanks sufficient for the dignity and the respect that you just carry to that workplace,” she mentioned.

“I really feel blessed to have this chance, particularly in a time like this. It’s actually a disaster,” Paxton replied.

“God bless you. God bless you, Ken Paxton, God bless you. And thanks for all that you just and your group do,” Engelbrecht added.Months later, the 2 went to extraordinary lengths to assist Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen. Paxton filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Texas searching for to overturn the election in key states the place Trump had misplaced, a go well with that the U.S. Supreme Courtroom eventually dismissed as a result of Texas had no authorized standing to problem different states’ outcomes.

Engelbrecht, in the meantime, accepted $2.5 million from a significant conservative donor to guide a authorized and PR marketing campaign to contest the election outcomes. Nonetheless, True the Vote rapidly dismissed the lawsuits it filed and offered no proof of voter fraud. The donor, Fred Eshelman, turned disillusioned and sued True the Vote in rural Austin County in February 2021 for misusing his donation.

Any time a charity in Texas is sued, the state Lawyer Common’s Workplace is notified below legislation. On March 9, 2021, Assistant Lawyer Common Zeenia Challa wrote to the Austin County district clerk, notifying the courtroom that the workplace realized in regards to the dispute. Challa mentioned she was “at the moment reviewing the paperwork offered within the continuing to find out if Lawyer Common participation is warranted.”

On the identical day, an legal professional for True the Vote wrote to Challa that he anticipated that she would need to know “that the funds spent by this charitable group are being spent in keeping with the needs for which the entity was fashioned.”

“You will notice, if it involves that time, that all the expenditures of True the Vote have been made with a view to consider, examine and finally educate on the problems of voter integrity,” legal professional Brock Akers mentioned within the letter, which was produced in response to an open information request.

Neither courtroom information nor information launched by the Lawyer Common’s Workplace point out whether or not Challa responded to letters from True the Vote’s attorneys.

On March 31, 2021, attorneys for True the Vote argued that the lawsuit didn’t have standing as a result of it was a matter for the Texas Lawyer Common’s Workplace.

“As an alternative, the one true social gathering in curiosity relative to cash donated to this charitable group is the State of Texas, as represented by the Lawyer Common,” True the Vote argued, based on courtroom information.

The Austin County decide agreed with True the Vote’s argument April 8, 2021, liberating Engelbrecht’s nonprofit from the specter of getting to return $2.5 million.

Greater than a yr after the case was dismissed, Paxton’s workplace gained’t say whether or not it ever investigated. And it hasn’t answered questions on whether or not it’ll study the group’s funds. Engelbrecht didn’t reply to questions associated to her relationship with Paxton.

Eshelman has appealed the decide’s ruling.

Data withheld

As Reveal sought to higher perceive True the Vote’s funds and whether or not Paxton seemed into the donor dispute, the information group requested numerous information associated to the nonprofit which might be public information below the Texas Public Info Act and held by the Lawyer Common’s Workplace. Reveal additionally requested inner legal professional basic communications about True the Vote.

In response to the request for the information, Assistant Lawyer Common June Harden mentioned True the Vote was now not a charity and closed the request with out turning over any paperwork. When pressed on the choice, Harden later mentioned she “misspoke.” Certainly, information with the state point out True the Vote is an energetic charity. The request was reopened.

As is the case in lots of states, the Texas legal professional basic can maintain information of nonprofits, like their tax filings. The Lawyer Common’s Workplace first mentioned it didn’t have True the Vote’s tax filings, then later acknowledged it had the nonprofit’s 2019 return however wouldn’t launch it. To make its case, it cited a basic statute that claims tax returns are confidential for the common individual.

Joe Larsen, a First Modification legal professional and board member of the Freedom of Info Basis of Texas, mentioned that statute didn’t apply. “That’s the sort of info that’s speculated to be accessible to the general public,” Larsen mentioned. The Lawyer Common’s Workplace “has no foundation for withholding that.”

In Texas, it’s normally potential to attraction information selections made by public businesses. Nonetheless, the legal professional basic is the social gathering that decides on the attraction.

In the end, Reveal obtained variations of True the Vote’s tax returns from different sources, they usually present a sequence of questionable monetary transactions.

At one level, Engelbrecht offered Reveal a copy of the 2019 tax return that was considerably totally different from the version on the IRS website. The IRS model confirmed that True the Vote had loaned her greater than $113,000; the model offered to Reveal didn’t record that info. The 2 variations listed totally different board members as properly.

When Reveal requested information from the legal professional basic, Paxton additionally withheld some communications associated to True the Vote, citing attorney-client privilege. It’s unclear what these information could possibly be. Larsen mentioned there could possibly be some communications that may be withheld below attorney-client privilege about True the Vote, but it surely doesn’t imply the workplace can withhold all communications.

It’s commonplace for legislation enforcement businesses to not touch upon pending investigations, however in different circumstances, Paxton has publicly acknowledged when he’s investigating a charity.

The Texas State Bar filed a lawsuit towards Paxton in Might for falsely saying he’d uncovered proof that solid doubt on the 2020 election end result. Paxton might face a reprimand or have his authorized license revoked.

“Texas Bar: I’ll see you and the leftists that management you in courtroom,” Paxton mentioned in response.

Paxton introduced his office was investigating the Texas Bar Foundation, which is the nonprofit arm of the State Bar that provides authorized companies and training. He claimed the nonprofit was “facilitating mass inflow of unlawful aliens” by donating cash to teams that “encourage, take part in, and fund unlawful immigration on the Texas-Mexico border.”

Analysis debunked

Whereas Paxton has remained silent on True the Vote, the nonprofit’s analysis grabbed consideration in the course of the hearings of the choose committee to research the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

In a video proven in the course of the second listening to final month, former U.S. Lawyer Common Invoice Barr mocked the movie “2000 Mules,” which used True the Vote’s claims that anonymized cellphone knowledge round poll drop packing containers pointed to “poll harvesting.” That’s when a 3rd social gathering — like a family member, activist group or nursing residence — collects and submits absentee ballots on behalf of others, which is legal in a majority of states.

In his videotaped testimony, Barr mentioned True the Vote’s knowledge and video proof have been “missing.”

“My opinion then and my opinion now’s that the election was not stolen by fraud,” Barr mentioned. “And I haven’t seen something because the election that modifications my thoughts on that, together with the ‘2000 Mules’ film.”

He broke out in amusing.

Shortly after the listening to, Engelbrecht joined former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s “Battle Room” present, the place the 2 bashed Barr’s testimony and made veiled threats towards the previous U.S. legal professional basic.

“Invoice Barr, we’re coming for you, bro,” Bannon said. Engelbrecht nodded her head.

“Beware the fury of a risen folks; this isn’t going to go properly in the event that they proceed to push this apart,” Engelbrecht mentioned.

Within the weeks following the movie’s Might 7 launch, Engelbrecht has hosted a sequence of question-and-answer boards. Nonetheless, she engages solely with individuals who pay to subscribe to her content material creator platform on Locals.

A number of commenters lately requested Engelbrecht when she deliberate to launch the voter fraud proof following the debut of “2000 Mules.” She didn’t tackle a selected date.

Engelbrecht, arriving late to a latest livestream and from her automobile, learn aloud from a prolonged commenter’s submit about election fraud that went on to say, “I’m not completely satisfied about being scammed by True the Vote. And given the obvious holes within the arguments and maybe the shadiness of the graphics, I definitely can not publicly endorse ‘2000 mules.’”

She paused.

“This one would have been a enjoyable query to begin from the underside and browse up,” she mentioned.

“Sorry you didn’t just like the film and that you just didn’t just like the graphics. Take that up with Dinesh,” Engelbrecht mentioned, referring to director Dinesh D’Souza. “And should you really feel such as you’re being scammed, then why are you on this Locals channel? You needed to subscribe to even ask the query. That’s your alternative.”

Shortly after, Engelbrecht ended her livestream early.

This story was produced by Reveal from The Heart for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit information group.