AUSTIN, TX– Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was on the brink of impeachment on Thursday after years of scandal, criminal charges and corruption charges that the state’s Republican majority had so far largely ignored.
In a unanimous decision, a Republican-led House Inquiry Committee that spent months quietly investigating Paxton recommended removing the state’s top lawyer. The state House of Representatives could vote on the recommendation as early as Friday. If the House impeaches Paxton, he would be forced out of office immediately.
The move brought a remarkably sudden downfall for one of the GOP’s most prominent legal fighters, who in 2020 asked the US Supreme Court to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Only two officials in Texas’ nearly 200-year history have been impeached.
Paxton has been investigated by the FBI for years on charges he used his office to help a donor and was charged separately with securities fraud in 2015 but has yet to stand trial.
Unlike Congress, impeachment in Texas requires immediate removal until a trial takes place in the Senate. It means Paxton is at risk of being ousted by GOP lawmakers just seven months after easily winning a third term against challengers — including George P. Bush — who had urged voters to reject a compromised incumbent but found that many were unaware of Paxton’s Litany. of alleged wrongdoing or characterized the charges as political attacks. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could appoint an interim replacement.
Two of Paxton’s defense attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Paxton implied that the investigation that emerged this week is a politically motivated attack by a “liberal” Republican House speaker, whom he also accused of being drunk on the job.
Chris Hilton, a senior attorney in the attorney general’s office, told reporters ahead of Thursday’s committee vote that what investigators said about Paxton was “false”, “misleading” and “full of errors, small and large”. He said all of the allegations were known to voters when they re-elected Paxton in November.
Impeachment requires a two-thirds vote of the chamber in the state’s 150-member House, where Republicans hold a commanding 85-64 majority.
In a sense, Paxton’s political peril came at breakneck speed: House Republicans only revealed they had investigated him on Tuesday, followed the next day by an extraordinary public airing of alleged criminal wrongdoing. he would have committed as one of the most powerful figures in Texas.
But for Paxton’s critics, who now include a growing portion of his own party in the Texas Capitol, the rebuke was seen as years old.
In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law by not registering as an investment adviser while soliciting clients. A year later, Paxton was indicted by a grand jury on a felony charge in his hometown near Dallas, where he was charged with defrauding investors in a tech startup. He pleaded not guilty to two counts carrying a potential sentence of five to 99 years in prison.
He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was being investigated by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. Another $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton was later hired into a high-ranking position but was soon fired after he tried to make a point by posting child pornography during a ‘a meeting.
What triggered the most serious risk for Paxton was his relationship with another wealthy donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
Several of Paxton’s top aides in 2020 have said they fear the attorney general is abusing the powers of his office to help Paul over unproven allegations that an elaborate plot to steal $200 million from his properties was in progress. course. The FBI searched Paul’s home in 2019, but he was not charged and his attorneys denied wrongdoing. Paxton also told staff members that he had been having an affair with a woman who it later emerged worked for Paul.
Paxton’s aides accused him of corruption and were all fired or resigned after reporting him to the FBI. Four sued under Texas whistleblower laws, accusing Paxton of wrongful retaliation, and in February agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million. But the Texas House must approve the payment, and Phelan said he doesn’t think taxpayers should foot the bill.
Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House investigation into Paxton began. The investigation amounted to a rare scrutiny of Paxton in the state Capitol, where many Republicans have long taken a silent stance on the charges that followed the attorney general.
This includes Abbott, who in January swore Paxton in for a third term and said the way he approached the job was “the right way to run the attorney general’s office.”
Only twice has the Texas House removed a sitting official: Governor James Ferguson in 1917 and State Judge OP Carrillo in 1975.