Last year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton found himself at a career peak. He had just survived a primary election against former Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, a member of a political dynasty.
Now, Paxton finds himself on the brink of impeachment, and a GOP-led panel is heading the charge. He could face a vote on impeachment as soon as Friday.
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A Republican-led House investigative committee spent months quietly looking into Paxton. On Thursday, the panel unanimously recommended impeaching the scandal-plagued official on 20 articles, including bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust.
Rep. Andrew Murr, the Republican chair of the investigative committee, said he did not have a timeline for the impeachment vote.
Even with Monday’s end of the regular session approaching, state law allows the House to keep working on impeachment proceedings. It also could call itself back into session later. The Senate has the same options.
That’s the rough timeline. Here are the details.
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Under the Texas constitution and law, impeaching a state official is similar to the process on the federal level: the action starts in the state House.
In this case, the five-member House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously Thursday to send 20 articles of impeachment to the full chamber. The next step is a vote by the 149-member House, where a simple majority is needed to approve the articles. Republicans control the chamber 85-64.
The House can call witnesses to testify, but the investigating committee already did that prior to recommending impeachment. The panel met for several hours Wednesday, listening to investigators deliver an extraordinary public airing of Paxton’s years of scandal and alleged lawbreaking.
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 emerged Wednesday, none of Texas’ other top Republicans have voiced support for Paxton.
If the full House impeaches Paxton, everything shifts to the state Senate for a “trial” to decide whether to permanently remove Paxton from office, or acquit him. Removal requires a two-thirds majority vote.
But there is a major difference between Texas and the federal system: If the House votes to impeach, Paxton is immediately suspended from office until the outcome of the Senate trial. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would have the opportunity to appoint an interim replacement.
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 has said he doesn’t think taxpayers should foot the bill.
Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House investigation into Paxton began.
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REPUBLICAN ON REPUBLICAN
The five-member committee that mounted the investigation of Paxton is led by his fellow Republicans, contrasting America’s most prominent recent examples of impeachment.
Trump’s federal impeachments in 2020 and 2021 were driven by Democrats who had majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives. In both cases, the impeachment charges approved by the House failed in the Senate, where Republicans had enough votes to block any convictions.
In Texas, Republicans control both houses by large majorities and the state’s GOP leaders hold all levers of influence. But that hasn’t stopped Paxton from seeking to rally a defense.
When the House investigation emerged Tuesday, Paxton suggested it was a political attack by Phelan. He called for the “liberal” speaker’s resignation and accused him of being drunk during a marathon session last Friday.
Phelan’s office brushed off the accusation as Paxton attempting to “save face.” None of the state’s other top Republicans have voiced support for Paxton since.
Paxton issued a statement Thursday, portraying impeachment proceedings as an effort to disenfranchises the voters who gave him a third term in November. He said that by moving against him “the RINOs in the Texas Legislature are now on the same side as Joe Biden.”
The attorney general has characterized his potential impeachment as “a critical moment for the rule of law and will of Texas voters.”
“It’s is a sad day for Texas as we witness the corrupt political establishment unite in this illegitimate attempt to overthrow the will of the people and disenfranchise the voters of our state,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday, calling the committee’s findings “hearsay and gossip, parroting long-disproven claims.”
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THE MARRIAGE WRINKLE
But Paxton, who served five terms in the House and one in the Senate before becoming attorney general, is sure to still have allies in Austin.
A likely one is his wife, Angela, a two-term state senator who could be in the awkward position of voting on her husband’s political future. It’s unclear whether she would would or should participate in the Senate trial, where the 31 members make margins tight.
In a twist, Paxton’s impeachment deals with an extramarital affair he acknowledged to members of his staff years earlier. The impeachment charges include bribery for one of Paxton’s donors, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, allegedly employing the woman with whom he had the affair in exchange for legal help.
YEARS IN THE MAKING
The impeachment reaches back to 2015, when Paxton was indicted on securities fraud charges for which he still has not stood trial. The lawmakers charged Paxton with making false statements to state securities regulators.
But most of the articles stem from Paxton’s connections to Paul and a remarkable revolt by the attorney general’s top deputies in 2020.
That fall, eight senior Paxton aides reported their boss to the FBI, accusing him of bribery and abusing his office to help Paul. Four of them later brought the whistleblower lawsuit. The report prompted a federal criminal investigation that in February was taken over by the U.S. Justice Department’s Washington-based Public Integrity Section.
The impeachment charges cover myriad accusations related to Paxton’s dealings with Paul. The allegations include attempts to interfere in foreclosure lawsuits and improperly issuing legal opinions to benefit Paul, and firing, harassing and interfering with staff who reported what was going on. The bribery charges stem from the affair, as well as Paul allegedly paying for expensive renovations to Paxton’s Austin home.
The fracas took a toll on the Texas attorney general’s office, long one of the primary legal challengers to Democratic administrations in the White House.
In the years since Paxton’s staff went to the FBI, his agency has come unmoored by disarray behind the scenes, with seasoned lawyers quitting over practices they say aim to slant legal work, reward loyalists and drum out dissent.
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Paxton was already likely to be noted in history books for his unprecedented request that the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Joe Biden’s defeat of Trump in the 2020 presidential election. He may now make history in another way.
Only twice has the Texas House impeached a sitting official.
Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson was removed from office in 1917 for misapplication of public funds, embezzlement and the diversion of a special fund. State Judge O.P. Carrillo was forced out of office in 1975 for using public money and equipment for his own use and filing false financial statements.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.