A legal watchdog group has filed a lawsuit in Texas accusing the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, and its embattled attorney general, Ken Paxton, of trying to conceal records of any discussions their offices may have had with gun advocacy groups, including the National Rifle Association, in the wake of Uvalde shooting.
The suit, filed in a Texas district court on Thursday by the nonprofit American Oversight, claims that both officials responded to an open records request pursuing details of their interactions with gun lobbyists in a manner too implausible to be believed. Both the Office of the Governor and the Office of the Attorney General claim that no such records exist, that there are no interactions to speak of.
In a complaint, American Oversight says the claim that neither offices had any contact with gun groups after the shooting is “not credible.”
“Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton have repeatedly withheld records in contravention of Texas law by claiming attorney-client privilege protects an overly broad swath of records,” said Melanie Sloan, senior advisor at American Oversight. The group’s lawsuit was filed, in part, Sloan said, to discover whether Abbot and Paxton are using personal phones and email accounts in an effort to evade transparency.
The group’s gun lobby requests are thorough, covering any contact between the day of the shooting, Tuesday, May 24, and the end of the following week, Friday, June 3. The requests cover communications to and from both officials, their chiefs of staff and deputies, as well as other staff charged with managing the two leaders’ schedules and interactions with the press.
Abbott cancelled a scheduled public appearance at the NRA’s Houston convention two days after the shooting. He also recorded a statement for the NRA in his office that week, which mentioned the shooting, and was played on stage in his absence.
“It is not credible that no senior official in the Governor’s Office was communicating with external entities focused on gun advocacy during a period of time that included both a major mass shooting event and the National Rifle Association annual meeting in the state,” the complaint says.
Abbott and Paxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The NRA also did not respond.
NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, Executive Director Jason Ouimet, and President of the Board Charles Cotton are specifically named in the complaint. The NRA has donated thousands of dollars to both officials in recent years. Other gun groups named by American Oversight include the Texas State Rifle Association, the National Association for Gun Rights, and the Second Amendment Foundation, among others.
Paxton, who won a primary election the day of the massacre against George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — with help from a Donald Trump endorsement — is under indictment for felony securities fraud, though his trial has been delayed for seven years. The FBI is also reportedly investigating Paxton on allegations of abuse-of-office and bribery; claims that were committed to paper by seven members of his own staff. He filed suit on behalf of Texas to overturn the 2020 election in favour of Donald Trump.
Two teachers and 19 students between the ages of nine and 11 were slain at Robb Elementary School by a gunman wearing tactical gear and carrying AR-15 style rifle. The City of Uvalde has strongly resisted calls by the parents and relatives of the victims to release any details of the investigation. Nevertheless, local officials have acknowledged multiple errors on the part of the police force that responded to the shooting.
On Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told a state Senate committee that a single classroom door that stood between 19 police officers and the gunman for nearly an hour had been unlocked the entire time. McCraw added there was “compelling evidence” the police response was an “abject failure and antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”
The police commander at the scene made the decision “to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said.
The Texas Tribune reported in mid-June that Abbott had joined a “growing list of state and local officials fighting the release of records that could help bring clarity to how the emergency response unfolded during last month’s deadly shooting in Uvalde.”
Vice News reported after that the City of Uvalde and its police department had engaged a private law firm to suppress any information demanded by the public: photos, 911 calls, and body camera footage, among other records.
The city has previously argued that the reason for withholding records about the shooting is to prevent criminals from gaining “valuable information” about how the police department detects and investigates crime.