The Republican-led Texas House of Representatives is expected to carry out a historic impeachment process against Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday, as the scandal-plagued Republican urged his supporters to protest a vote that could lead to his ouster. .
The House scheduled an early afternoon debate on impeachment and Paxton’s suspension from office on allegations of bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of the public trust – just a few of the accusations that have dogged Texas’ top attorney for most of of his three terms.
The hearing sets out what could be a remarkably sudden slump for one of the GOP’s most prominent legal fighters, who in 2020 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Joe Biden’s election defeat of President Donald Trump. Only two officials in Texas’ nearly 200-year history have been impeached.
Paxton, 60, called the impeachment process “political theater” based on “rumor and gossip, repeating long-refuted claims” and an attempt to disenfranchise voters who re-elected him in November. On Friday, he urged supporters “to come peacefully so that your voices are heard on Capitol Hill tomorrow.”
Paxton has been under investigation by the FBI for years over allegations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, although he has yet to stand trial. Until this week, his fellow Republicans remained mum about the allegations.
Impeachment only requires a simple majority in the House. That means only a small fraction of his 85 Republicans would need to join the 64 Democrats to vote against him.
If challenged, Paxton would be removed from office pending a Senate trial, and it would be up to Republican Governor Greg Abbott to nominate an interim replacement. Final removal would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member.
Texas’s top-elected Republicans have been remarkably quiet about Paxton this week. But some party members began rallying around him on Friday, with state GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi calling the process a “farce”.
In a sense, Paxton’s political danger came with breakneck speed: The House committee’s investigation of him came to a head on Tuesday, and by Thursday, lawmakers issued 20 articles of impeachment.
But for Paxton’s detractors, the rebuke was years overdue.
In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law, and a year later he was indicted on securities fraud charges in his hometown near Dallas, accused of defrauding investors in a tech startup. He has pleaded not guilty to two criminal charges that carry a possible sentence of five to 99 years.
He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was under investigation by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton later hired into a high-ranking position but was soon fired after displaying child pornography at a meeting. In 2020, Paxton intervened in a community in the Colorado mountains where a Texas donor and college classmate was evicted from his lakefront home by order of the coronavirus.
But what triggered impeachment momentum was Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
In 2020, eight top aides told the FBI they were concerned that Paxton was using his office to help Paul over the developer’s unproven allegations that an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million from his properties was in progress. The FBI searched Paul’s home in 2019, but he has not been charged and denies wrongdoing. Paxton also told team members that he had an affair with a woman who, it later emerged, worked for Paul.
The impeachment accuses Paxton of trying to interfere in foreclosure proceedings and issuing legal opinions to benefit Paul. His bribery charges allege that Paul employed the woman Paxton had an affair with in exchange for legal help and that he paid for expensive renovations to the attorney general’s home.
A senior attorney at Paxton’s office, Chris Hilton, said Friday that the attorney general paid for all repairs and renovations.
Other charges, including lying to investigators, date back to Paxton’s still-pending securities fraud charge.
Four of the aides who reported Paxton to the FBI later sued him under Texas whistleblower law, and in February, he agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million. The House committee said it was Paxton seeking legislative approval for the payment that triggered the investigation.
“Were it not for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement of his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not face impeachment,” the panel said.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.