Much has been made of the favors alleged to have been exchanged between Nate Paul, the Austin real estate developer indicted on federal charges that he made false statements to financial institutions, and Ken Paxton, the impeached attorney general of Texas. In addition to the fairly straightforward quid pro quo dealings that the House impeachment managers allege—think “you use your office to block investigators from going through my finances and I pay for your kitchen remodel”—there are a few swerves. Some of the details in the four thousand pages of documents added to the record by the impeachment managers are downright intimate. Uber records indicate Paxton used a secret Uber account created by Paul, particularly to facilitate visits with a woman impeachment managers believe to have been his mistress (and whom Paul hired for a job in his real estate company).
The details are juicy, but given their personal nature, they also lead us to ponder a simple question: Are Nate Paul and Ken Paxton . . . friends?
On the surface, there’s little for the pair to bond over. Paul, the child of South Asian immigrants, was born in Victoria, Texas. He is a 36-year-old property developer and nightclub proprietor whom Forbes once estimated to own holdings worth $1.2 billion. Famously, he announced his property acquisitions by draping from his new buildings banners emblazoned with a slogan ripped from hip-hop mogul DJ Khaled: “Another One.” Paxton is a 60-year-old grandfather, evangelical, and career politician born in North Dakota who met his wife while the two were students at Baylor University, before Paul was born.
Still, sometimes unlikely duos just click. Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were opera buddies and once rode an elephant together. Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart have a fifteen-year friendship, and the two cohost a cooking show. Medo, a brown bear in Slovenia, famously cuddled with a pet dog that lived nearby. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common interests of Paul and Paxton as we consider: Is this graft, a genuine bromance, or both?
The Secret Uber Account
Sharing an Uber account with your buddy is uncommon behavior. What if your pal barfs in the ride and you lose a whole star from your rating? But “Dave P”—as the account alleged to have been set up by Paul for Paxton’s use was named—worried not about such matters. It’s unclear whether Paul ever used the account for travel, but it sure did log a lot of trips from Paxton’s house (or, more accurately, an address nearby). The records indicate that “Dave P” took multiple rides from Paxton’s neighborhood to a Southwest Austin apartment of the woman with whom House impeachment managers say he was having an affair. He also took multiple trips to Paul’s residence, sometimes from unusual pickup points; on one early evening in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic summer, he called an Uber there from a Chevron station.
The Uber account was also used for out-of-state vacations: “Dave P” seemingly was a guest for several days at the Peninsula hotel in Beverly Hills, where rooms start at $985 a night. He also took a ride from the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas to the Bellagio hotel, a few minutes away. There were also several trips for fast food, though it’s unclear why “Dave P” wanted to keep those hidden. Was someone nagging him about his cholesterol level? At 6:30 on the morning of December 8, 2019, for example, a car picked up the account’s user near Paul’s house and dropped him off at a Burger King off Texas Highway 71 in South Austin. During a trip to Chicago, “Dave P,” behaving like a homesick tourist, skipped local icon Harold’s Chicken for a visit to an outlet of Church’s, the national chain founded in San Antonio.
Friendship Assessment: Mixed. A true friend would discourage his married pal from taking late-night trips to visit the apartment of a woman with whom he’s believed to be having an affair. But also, nothing says “bros” like meeting up with your buddy for a Croissan’wich at dawn.
Paxton at Rio
One of the unlikely hangouts for Paxton, the married evangelical Christian who was nearly sixty when he and Paul hit it off, was Rio, a nightclub owned by the real estate developer on West Sixth Street in Austin. Let’s take a look at what Rio has to offer: it’s home to the monthly “Drippin’ Pool Party”; on Halloween, it hosts the “Naughty Night” costume party; its New Year’s Eve parties boast of “Professional Go Go Dancers.” In late 2019, around the time “Dave P” was hanging out there, it hosted a “Customer Appreciation Party” that featured a performance by “How to Rob” rapper 50 Cent. And, of course, there are the venue’s famous Saturday and Sunday “Diva Royale” drag shows, which include both nighttime and matinee performances.
“Dave P” was generally an after-hours visitor to Rio. A car would pick him up near Paul’s house to take him to the club. Once, he got picked up at the club a little before four a.m. and caught a ride to a downtown hotel. Seems like a fun place!
Friendship Assessment: Unclear. Paxton, in 2022, urged the Legislature to “expressly prohibit” certain drag shows, which he said exhibited “grossly sexual conduct.” Paxton may or may not have been a regular at the Rio, but that didn’t seem to keep him from sympathizing with Paul on other issues. Who among us doesn’t see the occasional shade of gray when our friends are involved?
Their Whole Vibe Toward Law Enforcement
When it comes to the big things, Paul and Paxton are simpatico. As the Austin Chronicle noted in 2020: “It makes some sense that ambitious, provocative, ethically questionable, and now embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton would vibe well with ambitious, provocative, ethically questionable, and now embattled Austin real estate mogul Nate Paul.”
According to a transcript of an attorney general’s office whistleblower interview released by the House impeachment managers, Paxton rebuffed staffers who warned him against getting entangled in Paul’s affairs. The whistleblower said Paxton told aides that the developer was being “railroaded” by law enforcement and dissuaded his staff from assisting federal investigators who were poking into the mogul’s activities. Paxton, long before his impeachment, was also subject to a criminal investigation resulting in a felony indictment—and has a similar attitude toward law enforcement looking into his business. In the midst of his 2022 reelection campaign, Paxton frequently claimed to be the victim of a witch hunt, expressing on Fox News that recent investigations into his conduct, spurred by the allegations of whistleblowers he had hired, were coming from “the Biden FBI” and “the Biden DOJ.”
Friendship Assessment: Maybe Paxton just saw Paul as a kindred spirit in need of some help from an attorney general who could relate to his predicament. Perhaps in the course of discussing how unfair law enforcement could be to a couple of fellas just trying to make their way in the world, the two started to bare their souls. One can imagine Paxton, feeling the warm glow of budding brotherhood, complaining about the poky size and janky countertops of his kitchen or the employment troubles of a particular lady friend who lived in Southwest Austin, and Paul, flush with oxytocin, seeing an opportunity to help out his new buddy.
Would Paul and Paxton have felt such kinship if they weren’t both powerful, embattled men who had so much to offer to solve each other’s respective predicaments? If Paxton were but a simple country lawyer and Paul a DJ playing gigs on Sixth Street, would they have found each other? Stranger things have happened. In any case, we’ll probably gain more insight into these questions once Paxton’s impeachment trial starts on September 5.
Update, October 3, 2023: House managers released a revised copy of the transportation log for “Dave P” in October, correcting the pickup location in a few instances from Paxton’s house to Paul’s house. We’ve updated the story to reflect the new information.