AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — After years of legal and ethical scandals swirling around Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives headed for an impeachment vote on Saturday that could quickly overthrow him from office.
The extraordinary and rarely used maneuver comes in the final days of the state legislative session and sets up a deadly political fight. It pits Paxton, who has aligned himself closely with former President Donald Trump and the state’s far-right conservatives, against House Republican leaders, who seem suddenly fed up with allegations of wrongdoing that have long harassed the best lawyer in Texas.
Paxton fights him every step of the way, calling the whole process “corrupt.” He asked his supporters to rally for him at the state capitol during the vote.
Here’s how the impeachment process works in Texas and how the 60-year-old Republican found himself facing the prospect of becoming the third public official to be impeached in its nearly 200-year history:
Under the Texas Constitution and law, impeachment of a state official is similar to the process at the federal level: the action begins in the State House.
In that case, the five-member House General Investigative Committee voted unanimously Thursday to send 20 articles of impeachment to all 149 members of the house.
Paxton faces grim legislative calculations. A simple majority is enough to impeach. That means only a small fraction of the 85 House Republicans would need to vote against him if all 64 Democrats did.
The House can call witnesses to testify, but the Board of Inquiry has already done so before recommending impeachment. For several hours on Wednesday, investigators aired an extraordinary public broadcast of Paxton’s years of scandal and alleged breach of law.
Saturday’s debate and floor vote are expected to last about five hours.
If the House impeaches Paxton, a trial in the Senate will decide whether to permanently remove him from office or acquit him. Removal by the Senate requires a two-thirds majority vote.
A SUDDEN THREAT
But there is one major difference between Texas and the federal system: and impeachment means Paxton is immediately suspended from office pending the outcome of the Senate trial. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would appoint an interim replacement.
The GOP in Texas controls all branches of state government. Until this week, Republican lawmakers and leaders have taken a silent stance on the myriad examples of alleged misconduct and violations of Paxton’s law that have emerged in legal filings and news reports over the years. years.
In February, Paxton agreed to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by former aides who accused him of corruption. The $3.3 million payout must be approved by the House, and Republican Speaker Dade Phelan said he doesn’t think taxpayers should foot the bill.
Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House investigation into Paxton began.
“Without Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement regarding his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not face impeachment,” the investigating committee wrote in a Friday memo.
As the vote takes place inside the House chamber, Paxton called on supporters across the state to descend on Capitol Hill and demonstrate peacefully.
“Exercise your right to petition your government. Let’s return the power of this great state to the people, not the politicians,” Paxton said.
The demand echoed Trump’s call for people to protest his election defeat on Jan. 6, 2021, when a crowd violently stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Paxton spoke at the rally in Washington that day, before the uprising.
Hours before the impeachment vote, Governor Abbott, who has remained silent on the matter, is scheduled to deliver a Memorial Day speech to lawmakers in the House chamber.
The Capitol and Gallery House have been the scene of loud protests against gun laws and LGBTQ+ rights in recent weeks. Hundreds of State Police troopers cleared the Capitol Gallery and Rotunda after protests erupted over a bill banning transgender medical care for minors.
REPUBLICAN ON REPUBLICAN
The five-member committee that mounted the Paxton inquiry is led by his fellow Republicans, in contrast to the more prominent recent examples of impeachment in the United States.
Trump’s federal impeachments in 2020 and 2021 were driven by Democrats who overwhelmingly controlled the US House of Representatives. In both cases, the House-approved impeachment charges failed in the Senate, where Republicans had enough votes to block sentencing.
In Texas, Republicans control both chambers by large majorities, and the state’s GOP leaders hold all the levers of influence. That didn’t stop Paxton from seeking to rally a partisan defense.
When the House inquiry emerged on Tuesday, Paxton suggested it was a political attack by Phelan. He called for the ‘liberal’ speaker to resign 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”.
None of the other leading elected Republicans in the state have voiced support for Paxton since. But the state party president came to his defense on Friday, issuing a statement calling the impeachment effort a “sham” based on “allegations already contested by voters.”
Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi said they would rely on “the principled leadership of the Texas Senate to restore sanity and sanity.”
On Thursday, Paxton also described the impeachment proceedings as an effort to disenfranchise voters who elected him to a third term in November. He said that in taking action against him “the RINOs in the Texas Legislature are now on the same side as Joe Biden.”
THE WRINKLE OF MARRIAGE
But Paxton, who served five terms in the House and one in the Senate before becoming attorney general, is sure he still has allies in Austin.
One is his wife, Angela, a two-term state senator who may be in the awkward position of voting on her husband’s political future. It’s unclear whether she would or should participate in the Senate trial, where the 31 members make tight margins.
In a twist, Paxton’s impeachment deals with an extramarital affair he admitted to members of his staff years earlier. The impeachment charges include bribing one of Paxton’s donors, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who allegedly employed the woman he had an affair with in exchange for legal help.
YEARS OF CREATION
The impeachment dates back to 2015, when Paxton was charged with securities fraud for which he has still not been tried. Lawmakers accused Paxton of making false statements to state securities regulators.
But most of the stories stem from Paxton’s ties to Paul and a remarkable uprising by top deputy attorney generals in 2020.
That fall, eight senior Paxton aides reported their boss to the FBI, accusing him of corruption and abusing his office to help Paul. Four of them subsequently filed complaints for denunciation. The report sparked a federal criminal investigation, which in February was taken up by the Public Integrity Section of the US Department of Justice, based in Washington.
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 the case, as well as the fact that Paul allegedly paid for expensive renovations to Paxton’s home in Austin.
The fracas wreaked havoc on the office of the Texas attorney general, long one of the top legal adversaries of Democratic administrations in the White House.
In the years since Paxton’s staff went to the FBI, his agency has been defused by behind-the-scenes disarray, with senior lawyers quitting over practices they say are aimed at tilting the legal work, to reward loyalists and to express dissent.
Paxton was already likely to be noted in the history books for his unprecedented request to the United States Supreme Court to overturn Biden’s defeat of Trump in the 2020 presidential election. He can now make the story in another way.
Only twice has the Texas House removed a sitting official.
Governor James “Pa” Ferguson was removed from office in 1917 for misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and embezzlement of a special fund. State Judge OP Carrillo was forced to resign in 1975 for using public funds and facilities for his own use and filing false financial statements.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.