AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — After years of scandal, criminal charges and corruption charges, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton finds himself on the brink of impeachment, and a GOP-led panel is leading load.
In a unanimous decision, a Republican-led House Inquiry Committee that has spent months quietly investigating Paxton recommended impeaching the state’s top lawyer on Thursday on 20 items, including bribery, incapacity to office and breach of public trust.
The House could vote on the recommendation as early as Friday. If he impeaches Paxton, he would be forced out of office immediately.
The move sets up what could be a remarkably sudden downfall for one of the GOP’s most prominent legal fighters, who in 2020 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Only two officials in Texas’ nearly 200-year history have been impeached.
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years on charges that he used his office to help a donor. He was charged separately with securities fraud in 2015, but has yet to stand trial.
When the five-member committee’s investigation came to light on Tuesday, Paxton suggested it was a political attack by “liberal” Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan. He called for Phelan’s resignation and accused him of being drunk during a marathon session last Friday. Phelan’s office brushed off the accusation as Paxton tried to “save face”.
“This is a sad day for Texas as we see the corrupt political establishment unite in this illegitimate attempt to subvert the will of the people and disenfranchise the voters of our state,” Paxton said in a statement. statement Thursday, calling the committee’s findings “hearsay and gossip, repeating claims long refuted.
In acting against him, Paxton said, “The RINOs in the Texas Legislature are now on the same side as Joe Biden.”
Impeachment requires a majority vote of the typically 150-member state House chamber, which Republicans now control 85-64, as a GOP representative resigned ahead of a scheduled vote to oust him .
It’s unclear how many supporters Paxton may have in the House, where he served five terms before becoming a state senator. Since the prospect of impeachment suddenly surfaced on Wednesday, none of the other leading Republicans in Texas have voiced support for Paxton.
The impeachment articles released by the investigating committee, which includes three Republicans and two Democrats, largely stem from Paxton’s relationship with one of his wealthy donors. They deal heavily with Paxton’s alleged efforts to shield the donor from an FBI investigation and his attempts to thwart whistleblower complaints filed by his own staff.
The timing of a vote in the House is unclear. Rep. Andrew Murr, Republican chairman of the inquiry, said he didn’t have a timeline and Phelan’s office declined to comment.
Unlike Congress, impeachment in Texas requires immediate removal until a trial takes place in the Senate. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could appoint an interim replacement. Abbott’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the charges.
Permanent withdrawal would require two-thirds support in the Senate, of which Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican and leader of the Senate, did not respond to requests for comment.
Paxton, 60, faces 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 did not know Paxton. litany of alleged wrongdoings or characterized the charges as political attacks.
The attorney general called his potential impeachment a “critical moment for the rule of law and the will of Texas voters.”
Even as the end of Monday’s regular session nears, state law allows the House to continue working on impeachment proceedings. He could also remember in session later. The Senate has the same options.
In a sense, Paxton’s political peril has come at breakneck speed: The House committee’s investigation came to light on Tuesday, followed the next day by an extraordinary public broadcast of alleged criminal acts he committed as a 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 has gone on for years.
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 on a felony by a grand jury 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.
But 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 told the FBI they feared the attorney general was abusing the powers of his office to help Paul over unproven allegations of an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million from his properties. was in progress. 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.
The impeachment charges cover a myriad of charges related to Paxton’s relationship with Paul. The allegations include attempts to interfere with foreclosure proceedings and the improper issuance of legal opinions for Paul’s benefit, as well as firing, harassment and interference with staff who reported what was happening. The bribery charges stem from Paul allegedly employing the woman Paxton had an affair with in exchange for legal help and Paul allegedly paying for expensive renovations to Paxton’s Austin home.
Other charges date back to Paxton’s still-pending securities fraud indictment in 2015, including lying to state investigators.
The eight aides who reported Paxton to the FBI were all fired or resigned, and four were later prosecuted under Texas whistleblower law. In February, Paxton 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 have dogged him.
Only twice has the Texas House removed a sitting official: Governor James Ferguson in 1917 and State Judge OP Carrillo in 1975.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press reporters Paul J. Weber and Jim Vertuno contributed from Austin, Texas.