Ken Paxton, the suspended attorney general of Texas, traveled to China with other attorneys general in a secretive trip that included meetings with government officials and did so against the advice of his staff who expressed worry over potential Chinese Communist Party influence, according to sources and internal documents obtained by Fox News Digital.
The shadowy trip — facilitated by the Attorney General Alliance (AGA) and Conference of Western Attorneys General (CWAG) — was a 10-day excursion taking place between Oct. 30, 2019, and Nov. 8, 2019, and included stops in the Chinese cities of Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Macau, according to an itinerary of the trip reviewed by Fox News Digital.
"My first thought was this is a terrible decision to have made," said one individual with knowledge of the trip, speaking on 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."
Paxton — accompanied on the trip by his wife Angela, a Texas state senator — was not required to report the trip and ultimately attended against wishes from staffers who raised potential government influence and surveillance concerns, officials familiar with the matter said.
The documents showed AGA and CWAG arranged lavish accommodations and travel for Paxton and the other attorneys general who attended. And the top state law enforcement officers, both Republicans like Paxton and Democrats including then-Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors, met with both Chinese government officials and private sector representatives.
Multiple individuals, who requested anonymity to avoid retribution, confirmed the authenticity of the trip and documents. Fox News Digital is withholding their names to protect their identities.
In addition to Paxton, his wife and Connors, then-Attorneys General Hector Balderas of New Mexico, Mark Brnovich of Arizona and Wayne Stenehjem of North Dakota; former Connecticut Deputy Attorney General Margaret Chapple; and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes joined the trip. Balderas, Brnovich and Reyes brought their wives.
Attendees such as Connors and Brnovich, for example, reported the trip due to disclosure laws in their state, filings show.
AGA Executive Director Karen White and executives from Microsoft, Alibaba, JUUL and various other companies and law firms were also listed on the trip attendee list.
"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 Fox News Digital 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 continued. "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."
On the trip, the delegation first traveled to Beijing where they stayed at a Four Seasons hotel.
In Beijing, the attorneys general met with Chinese federal court officials and Chinese prosecutors; met with the general counsel of the state-run China State Construction and Engineering; toured the Microsoft offices; and participated in several historical tours including one to Tiananmen Square, the site of an infamous government massacre of protesting students in 1989.
They then traveled to Hangzhou where they stayed in a Sheraton resort. Their short stay in the city was highlighted by an all-day visit to the headquarters for Alibaba, the hundred-billion-dollar e-commerce platform closely regulated by the Chinese government.
After Hangzhou, the delegation traveled to Shanghai where they stayed at a Waldorf Astoria hotel. In addition to sightseeing in the city, they met with leaders at law firm Squire Patton Boggs Shanghai and anonymous "local officials."
In their final leg of the trip, the delegation traveled to Macau where they stayed at the Venetian Macau. The main purpose of the leg was leisure.
"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," Maestas, AGA's deputy director and general counsel, said.
"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 continued.
The AGA began as the Conference of Western Attorneys General, which still exists today as an AGA program, according to its website. CWAG's most recent financial audit covering its finances for the year ending June 30, 2022, shows it had nearly $7.5 million in total assets.
The AGA has received criticism for allegedly selling access to special interests, Axios reported last year. Chris Toth, who acted as the executive director of the National Association of Attorneys General, made the comments in his retirement letter last 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 in the letter, 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 $10k 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 said that "this places AGs in a very compromising and potentially embarrassing situation," adding that "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 former group distanced themselves from his comments, saying they were "his statements alone" and were not on behalf of the National Association of Attorneys General.
The Texas House voted in May to impeach Paxton after a months-long House investigation into him that led to 20 charges alleging abuse of power, obstruction of justice, bribery and abuse of public trust. The impeachment triggered an automatic suspension of Paxton who must now wait until the end of August for the Texas Senate impeachment trial.
"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 House impeachment.
Paxton and his wife's offices did not respond to Fox News Digital's inquiries for this story.