Republican-led Texas panel issues 20 impeachment counts against GOP attorney general
Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton urged his supporters on Friday to protest at the state Capitol when the Texas House takes up impeachment proceedings against him.
The Republican-dominated House is meeting Saturday to consider impeaching Paxton, 60, and suspending him from office over allegations of bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust — just some of the accusations that have trailed him for most of his three terms.
Paxton, also a Republican, decried the proceedings as “political theater,” adding to his earlier claims that the move was an effort to disenfranchise voters who reelected him in November.
“I want to invite my fellow citizens and friends to peacefully come let their voices be heard at the Capitol tomorrow,” he said at a news conference, calling for a protest on a day when the governor is scheduled to address lawmakers. . “Exercise your right to petition your government.”
If impeached, Paxton will be suspended from office immediately, and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott can appoint an interim replacement. Paxton would be just the third person in the state’s nearly 200-year history to be impeached, impeached, and the first statewide officer since 1917.
The House will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday to vote on a resolution calling for his impeachment, the House Committee on General Investigating said in a statement Friday.
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The GOP-led panel spent months quietly investigating Paxton before recommending his impeachment on 20 articles Thursday.
Prominent conservatives have been notably quiet about Paxton, but on Friday some began to rally around him. State Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi criticized the impeachment effort as a “sham.”
“It is based on allegations already litigated by voters, led by a liberal speaker trying to undermine his conservative adversaries,” Rinaldi said, echoing Paxton’s criticism of Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan. Rinaldi said the Senate would have to “restore sanity and reason” by acquitting Paxton if he stands trial in that chamber.
House proceedings on Saturday will include statements and four hours of debate before a vote, according to a committee memo.
Paxton faces grim math in the chamber, where he served five terms before becoming a state senator.
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It’s unclear how many supporters he may have in the House, but only a simple majority is needed to impeach. That means just a fraction of the 85 Republican members would need to vote to impeach Paxton, if all 64 Democrats support the move.
His removal from office, however, would require two-thirds support in the Senate, where Paxton’s wife’s, Angela, is a member.
The move to impeach the attorney general sets up what could be a remarkably sudden downfall for one of the GOP’s most prominent legal combatants, who in 2020 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn President Biden’s election victory.
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor. He was also indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, but has yet to stand trial.
When the five-member committee’s investigation came to light Tuesday, Paxton suggested it was a political attack by Phelan. He called for Phelan’s resignation and accused him during a marathon session last week of being drunk. Phelan’s office brushed off the accusation as an attempt by Paxton to “save face.”
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Paxton faces the possible ouster just seven months after easily winning a third term over challengers — among them George P. Bush — who had urged voters to reject a compromised incumbent. But many Texans either didn’t know about Paxton’s litany of alleged misdeeds or dismissed the accusations as political attacks.
Even with the upcoming end of the regular legislative session on Monday, state law allows the House to keep working on impeachment proceedings. Both chambers could call themselves back into session later.
The articles of impeachment stem largely from Paxton’s relationship with one of his wealthy donors, his alleged efforts to protect the donor from an FBI investigation and his attempts to thwart whistleblower complaints by his own staff.
In one sense, Paxton’s political peril arrived with dizzying speed: The House committee investigation came to light Tuesday, followed the next day by an extraordinary public airing of criminal acts he is accused of committing as one of Texas’ most powerful figures.
But to Paxton’s detractors, the rebuke was years in the making.
In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law by not registering as an investment advisor while soliciting clients. A year later, Paxton was indicted on felony securities charges in his Dallas-area hometown by a grand jury, which accused him of defrauding investors in a tech startup. He has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts that carry a potential sentence of five to 99 years in prison.
Paxton opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was being investigated by Paxton’s office for alleged Medicaid fraud. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton later hired to a high-ranking job; the son was soon fired after trying to make a point by displaying child pornography in a meeting.
What has unleashed the most serious risk to Paxton is his relationship with another wealthy donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
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Several of Paxton’s top aides in 2020 told the FBI that they were concerned the attorney general may be misusing his office to help Paul with his unproven claims of an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million of his properties. The FBI searched Paul’s home in 2019, but he has not been charged and his attorneys have denied wrongdoing. Paxton also told staff members that he’d had an affair with a woman who, it later emerged, worked for Paul.
The impeachment charges cover myriad allegations related to Paxton’s dealings with Paul. He is accused of interfering in foreclosure lawsuits and improperly issuing legal opinions to benefit Paul, and of firing, harassing and interfering with staff who reported what was going on. The bribery charges stem from accusations that Paul had employed the woman with whom Paxton had an affair in exchange for legal help, and that Paul had paid for expensive renovations to Paxton’s Austin home.
A senior lawyer for Paxton’s office denied Friday that Paul had paid for the work on the home, an accusation that had also come under FBI scrutiny.
“He paid for all his home repairs and renovations,” Chris Hilton said at the news conference, in one of the only direct responses from Paxton’s team to the impeachment articles.
Other charges date back to Paxton’s still-pending 2015 felony securities fraud indictment, and include lying to state investigators.
The eight aides who reported Paxton to the FBI were all fired or quit, and four later sued under Texas’ whistleblower law. In February, Paxton agreed to settle the suit for $3.3 million — a payout that would require the Texas House’s approval. The investigative committee said Friday that their probe stemmed from Paxton seeking the payout.
“We cannot over-emphasize the fact that, but for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment by the House,” the panel said.