Texas Panel recommends removal of Attorney General Ken Paxton
A Republican-led committee in the Texas House of Representatives on Thursday recommended that state Attorney General Ken Paxton be removed from office over a series of abuses of his office that committee investigators believe may have been crimes.
The recommendation pushed the state Capitol and its Republican leadership into uncharted political territory in the final days of the legislative session, setting the stage for the House to hold an impeachment vote, its first in decades and the one of the few ever held in the state. history.
If impeached, Mr Paxton, who has been the subject of a separate indictment since 2015, would be expected to temporarily resign from his post while he stands trial in the state Senate.
“There really is no precedent – we’ve only had two impeachments under the 1876 constitution,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. They include the governor in 1917, who resigned the day before his conviction by the Senate, and a district judge who was convicted and removed in the 1970s.
Prior to the vote, the committee met in executive session, out of public view.
“The reversal of the election begins behind closed doors,” Mr. Paxton said in a post on Twitter this included video of a lawyer from his office arguing against impeachment to reporters in a nearly empty committee room, as committee deliberations were underway.
The extraordinary developments were likely to test the Republican Party in Texas in new and unpredictable ways, at a time when divisions within the party are increasingly exposed.
The Texas House is led by Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican Representative Beaumont who is considered a traditional conservative. By contrast, Mr. Paxton has allied himself with Texas’ most strident Republican lawmakers and former President Donald J. Trump, in a camp that also includes the state’s Lt. Governor and Senate Leader Dan Patrick. .
The House Investigative Committee, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, voted unanimously to continue impeachment proceedings in a brief open session. “The president moves that the committee adopt the articles of impeachment against Warren Kenneth Paxton, Attorney General for the State of Texas,” said the chairman, Andrew Murr, a Republican.
It was not immediately clear when the House would consider the articles of impeachment and proceed to a floor vote, although several members said they expected that to happen before the end of the session on Monday. Otherwise, lawmakers could reconvene at any time in special session to deliberate.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Phelan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the timing of a floor vote.
For much of Thursday, House members braced for what had already begun to feel inevitable.
At least one lawmaker could be found researching the impeachment process in the Capitol Library. “I’m trying to figure out what impeachment is all about,” said lawmaker Rep. John Smithee, a Republican from the conservative Texas Panhandle Party. Speaking ahead of the committee’s vote, he said it was too early to pass judgment on the issue and he believed officials could be rushing for impeachment.
“I’d like to hear additional evidence instead of just a report,” Mr. Smithee said, “and his side of the story if he’s willing to tell it.”
The House committee’s vote came a day after hours of detailed testimony Wednesday from a team of investigators – former prosecutors who were hired by the committee to investigate corruption allegations against Mr. Paxton.
Investigators described how Mr. Paxton misused and abused his office to help an Austin real estate developer and donor who had also hired a woman with whom Mr. Paxton had a relationship, and how Mr. Paxton created a climate of fear within the attorney general’s office.
The misdeeds Mr Paxton has been accused of have reached the level of criminality possible, investigators said, including instances of retaliation against people who spoke out.
The committee did not take evidence during its meeting on Thursday.
Lawyer for Mr Paxton’s office, Christopher Hilton, told reporters the committee process was “completely flawed” and called Wednesday’s testimony “false” and “misleading”. He added that the issues raised by the committee had been fully aired during Mr Paxton’s re-election campaign last year, when he was elected to a third term.
“The 2022 election, the primary and the overall were built on these issues, these allegations,” Mr. Hilton said. “Voters have spoken. They want Ken Paxton as attorney general.
And, in what appeared to be a preview of a possible legal challenge to the proceedings, Mr Hilton said Texas law only allowed impeachment for conduct since the previous election.
Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the Democratic caucus at the Texas House, said after the vote that the impeachments were “very rare and very serious,” adding, “I am satisfied that the committee has put in a lot of work, and I will evaluate evidence and see where this process takes us.
Another Democrat, Rep. Jon Rosenthal of Houston, said the charges against Mr. Paxton were “pretty bad” and that he would most likely vote for impeachment. “I challenge you to find a Democrat who will say, ‘No, I will not vote for impeachment,'” he said.
The investigation began in March, after Mr Paxton, also indicted for securities fraud, apparently managed to put at least one of his legal setbacks behind him. He had agreed to a $3.3 million settlement with four of his top aides who had sued him, accusing him of corruption and retaliation.
Mr Paxton had petitioned the Texas Legislature for funds to pay the settlement. But Mr Phelan, the Speaker of the House, did not support this use of state money and said he felt Mr Paxton had not sufficiently explained why the state should fund the regulation. The House investigation into the allegations was launched to gather information about the request for funding, Mr. Phelan’s spokeswoman said.
For two days this week, as the committee’s inquiry drew to a close, Mr Paxton leveled accusations at Mr Phelan and claimed the speaker presided over a House session last week when he was drunk. Mr Paxton based his accusation on a video that has circulated among far-right activists who blame Mr Phelan for the failure of various Conservative bills in the House.
Much of what was presented to the committee about Mr Paxton was already publicly known through the allegations made in the aides’ trial. The aides also took their complaints about Mr Paxton to the FBI, which is still investigating.
Thursday’s vote delivered the first formal judgment on the allegations, deeming them sufficient to begin the process of impeaching Mr Paxton.
The committee also voted to send letters to the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Facilities Commission, which manages state assets, “to ensure that all evidence relevant to the investigation of the committee” would not be “destroyed or concealed”, Murr said. , the chairman of the committee.
The impeachment vote was the second time this year that the committee has recommended the impeachment of an elected official. The first involved a Republican state representative, Bryan Slaton; a committee investigation found he had slept with a 19-year-old staff member after serving him alcohol.
Mr. Slaton resigned shortly thereafter. The House then voted unanimously to formally expel him and bar him from holding office in the future.
David Montgomery contributed report.