In a sudden, historic rebuke of a fellow Republican who rose to be a star of the conservative legal movement despite years of scandal and alleged crimes, Texas’ GOP-led House of Representatives on Saturday impeached state Attorney General Ken Paxton on charges including bribery and abuse of public trust.
The vote forces Paxton to step down from his position immediately until the conclusion of a state Senate trial, and it gives Republican Governor Greg Abbott the authority to name a different attorney to serve as Texas’ top prosecutor in the meantime.
One of the GOP’s most notable legal foes, who in 2020 petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse President Joe Biden’s electoral victory against Donald Trump, suffered a stunning setback with the vote of 121-23. In Texas’ nearly 200-year history, Paxton is now only the third sitting official to have been impeached.
Paxton’s office immediately after the vote claimed that the impeachment was “based on totally false claims” and cited internal investigations that found no misconduct. According to House investigators, the attorney general’s own investigation into Paxton’s behavior contains untrue and demonstrably misleading statements.
Republican Representative David Spiller, a member of the committee looking into Paxton, stated in the committee’s opening remarks that “no one should be above the law, least not the top law enforcement officer of the state of Texas.” Democratic representative Ann Johnson warned lawmakers that Texas’ “top cop is on the take.” Republican committee member Rep. Charlie Geren stated without going into further detail that Paxton had called members and threatened them with political “consequences.” The parliamentarians shook their heads as the articles of impeachment were presented.
Paxton has been the subject of an FBI investigation amid claims that he used his position to assist a donor for years. In addition, in 2015, he was also charged with securities fraud, though he has not yet gone to trial. His fellow Republicans had remained silent on the accusations up until this week.
Paxton-aligned lawmakers made an effort to cast doubt on the probe by pointing out that paid investigators, not panel members, questioned witnesses. They said that the impeachment was tainted by the fact that some investigators participated in Democratic primaries and that they had little time to examine the material.
“I perceive it could be political weaponization,” said Rep. Tony Tinderholt, one of the House’s most conservative members. Republican Rep. John Smithee compared the proceeding to “a Saturday mob out for an afternoon lynching.”
Paxton is immediately placed on administrative leave pending a Senate trial, and it is up to Republican Governor Greg Abbott to name a temporary replacement. A two-thirds majority vote in the Senate, where Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a senator, would be necessary for final dismissal.
Republicans in Texas’ top elected positions had been particularly silent this week regarding Paxton. However, on Saturday, both President Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz defended him, with Cruz referring to the impeachment procedure as “a travesty” and arguing that the attorney general’s legal issues should be decided by the courts.
“Free Ken Paxton,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social, warning that if House Republicans proceeded with the process, “I will fight you.”
Abbott has hardly spoken since praising Paxton and swearing him in for a third term in January. Three hours prior to the start of the impeachment proceedings, the governor addressed a Memorial Day service in the House chamber. Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan was also present, although it seemed like they didn’t talk much, and Abbott left without speaking to the media.
Paxton’s political predicament came to light after the House committee’s probe on Tuesday, and by Thursday, 20 articles of impeachment had been published by members.
But the criticism was long overdue, according to Paxton’s critics.
He admitted breaking Texas securities law in 2014, and a year later he was arrested in his hometown near Dallas on charges of securities fraud. He was charged with cheating investors in a software business. He entered a not guilty plea to two felony offenses that could have resulted in a five to 99-year sentence.
Opening a legal defense fund, he took $100,000 from a businessman whose organization was being looked into by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. A retired Arizonan who had a son named Paxton who was later hired for a high-ranking position but promptly sacked for displaying child pornography in a meeting gave an additional $50,000 to the cause.
Paxton stepped in in 2020 when a Texas contributor and former classmate faced eviction from his lakefront house due to coronavirus orders in a town in the Colorado mountains.
Paxton’s partnership with Austin real estate entrepreneur Nate Paul, however, was what eventually put an end to the impeachment campaign.
Eight senior staff members expressed worry to the FBI in 2020 that Paxton was abusing his position to favor Paul in response to the developer’s unsubstantiated assertions that a complex plot to steal $200 million worth of his properties was under way. Paul’s home was searched by the FBI in 2019, but he has not been charged and insists he did nothing illegal. Paxton also admitted to having an affair with a woman who later turned out to be Paul’s employee.
Paxton is charged with trying to meddle in foreclosure litigation and providing legal advice in favor of Paul, according to the impeachment. According to the bribery allegations, Paul hired the person Paxton had an affair with in exchange for legal assistance and paid for pricey upgrades to the attorney general’s house.
Chris Hilton, a senior attorney in Paxton’s office, claimed on Friday that the attorney general had covered all maintenance and improvements.
Other accusations stem from Paxton’s ongoing securities fraud prosecution, such as lying to investigators.
After being sued under Texas’ whistleblower law by four of the aides who had reported Paxton to the FBI, he agreed to settle the matter for $3.3 million in February. The House committee claimed that Paxton’s request for legislative approval of the settlement was what prompted their investigation.
“But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment,” the panel said.