Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton found himself on the brink of impeachment Thursday after years of scandals, criminal indictments and corruption allegations that the state’s Republican majority has largely kept quiet about.
In a unanimous decision, the Republican-led investigative committee of the House of Representatives calmly watched Paxton for months recommended impeachment of the state attorney general on 20 counts, including bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust. The state House of Representatives could vote on the recommendation as early as Friday. If the House of Representatives impeaches Paxton, he will be forced out of office immediately.
The move led to the extremely sudden downfall of one of the Republican Party’s most prominent human rights activists, who in 2020 appealed to the US Supreme Court to overturn President Biden’s victory. Only two officials in the nearly 200-year history of Texas have been impeached.
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over allegations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately charged with securities fraud in 2015 but has yet to stand trial.
Unlike Congress, impeachment in Texas requires immediate removal from office pending a trial in the Senate. That means Paxton faces ouster from GOP lawmakers just seven months after narrowly winning a third term over challengers including George W. Bush, who urged voters to reject the embattled incumbent but found many unaware of Paxton’s litany of alleged of wrongdoing or dismissed the charges as political attacks. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott may appoint a temporary replacement.
Two of Paxton’s defense attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Paxton suggested the investigation, which came to light this week, was a politically motivated attack by the “liberal” GOP speaker, who he also accused of being drunk on the job.
In a statement Thursday, Paxton again called Republican Speaker Dade Phelan a “liberal” and accused the “RINOs in the Texas Legislature” of “aligning with Joe Biden, Alejandro Mayorkas and Chuck Schumer.”
Paxton also claimed that the investigative committee’s report was “based on hearsay and gossip, repeating long-debunked claims.”
Chris Hilton, a senior counsel in the attorney general’s office, told reporters before Thursday’s committee vote that what investigators said about Paxton was “false,” “misleading” and “full of errors big and small.” He said all the allegations were known to voters when they re-elected Paxton in November.
Impeachment requires a two-thirds vote of the 150-member state House of Representatives, where Republicans hold an overwhelming 85-64 majority.
In some ways, Paxton’s political peril came with stunning speed: House Republicans didn’t reveal they were investigating him until Tuesday, followed the next day by extraordinary public coverage of his alleged wrongdoing as one of Texas’ most powerful figures.
But Paxton’s detractors, who now include a growing share of his own party in the Texas Capitol, viewed the rebuke as a yearlong process.
In 2014, he pleaded guilty to violating Texas securities laws by failing to register as an investment adviser when soliciting clients. A year later, a grand jury in his hometown near Dallas indicted Paxton on securities crimes, where he was accused of defrauding investors in a technology startup. He pleaded not guilty to the two counts, which carry 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 under investigation by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton was later hired for a top job but soon fired after trying to prove his point by showing child pornography at a meeting.
The biggest danger for Paxton is his relationship with another wealthy donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
Paul is mentioned several times in the articles of impeachment in connection with Paxton’s alleged wrongdoing.
Paxton is accused, among other things, of improperly interfering with his employees in a lawsuit against “several corporate entities controlled by Paul,” of improperly obtaining information that was not disclosed to the public “for the purpose of providing information in favor of Nate Paul,” and another attorney writes more than 30 grand jury subpoenas “for the benefit of Nate Paul or Paul’s business entities.”
Paxton is also accused in Article II that his office prepared the report to avoid foreclosure of “property owned by Nate Paul or entities controlled by Paul.” Paxton is alleged to have “concealed his actions by asking the chairman of the Senate committee to act as the boss” and “ordered his office staff to reverse their legal decisions in favor of Paul.”
Several top Paxton aides said in 2020 that they were concerned that the attorney general was abusing the authority of his office to help Paul over unproven allegations of an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million from his estate. Paul’s home was searched by the FBI in 2019, but he has not been charged and his lawyers have denied wrongdoing. Paxton also told officers that he had been having an affair with a woman who, it was later revealed, worked for Paul.
Paxton’s aides accused him of corruption and all were fired or fired after reporting him to the FBI. The 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 payout, and Phelan said he doesn’t believe taxpayers should foot the bill.
Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House began investigating Paxton. The investigation has drawn rare scrutiny of Paxton at the state Capitol, where many Republicans have long taken a muted stance on the allegations that have followed the attorney general.
That includes Abbott, who in January swore in Paxton to a third term and said the way he approached the job was “the right way to run the attorney general’s office.”
The Texas House of Representatives has only twice impeached an incumbent: Governor James Ferguson in 1917 and State Judge OP Carrillo in 1975.