TX Legislature Impeaches AG Ken Paxton 05/28 09:47
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- The Texas Legislature already made one historic move
with its impeachment of Republican state Attorney General Ken Paxton. Another
one is coming.
The GOP-led House of Representatives on Saturday approved 20 articles of
impeachment on sweeping allegations of wrongdoing that have trailed the state's
top lawyer for years, including abuse of office and bribery. The vote
immediately suspended Paxton from office.
But the intraparty brawl in the nation's largest conservative state, one
that even drew political punches Saturday from former President Donald Trump,
is far from over. The Republican-controlled Senate will hold a trial of Paxton
next, and he and his allies hope conservatives there will save him.
One member of that chamber is his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, and she
could cast a vote on her husband's political future, which is now in jeopardy
in part because of bribery allegations linked to his extra-marital affair.
Impeachment in Texas is similar to the process on the federal level: After
the House action, the Senate holds its trial.
It is yet to be scheduled.
The House needed just a simple majority of its 149 members to impeach
Paxton, and the final 121-23 vote was a landslide. But the threshold for
conviction in the Senate trial is higher, requiring a two-thirds majority of
its 31 members.
If that happens, Paxton would be permanently barred from holding office in
Texas. Anything less means Paxton is acquitted and can resume his third term as
Paxton bitterly criticized the chamber's investigation as "corrupt," secret
and conducted so quickly that he and his lawyers were not allowed to mount a
defense. He also called Republican House Speaker Dade a "liberal."
The Senate is led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Like Paxton, he is a Republican
who has closely allied himself with Trump, and he has driven Texas' right-wing
political and policy push for the last decade. Patrick has yet to comment on
the impeachment or the House's allegations.
The Senate will set its own trial rules, including whether to take witness
testimony and what reports and documents to consider. It could also consider
whether to excuse Angela Paxton from voting due to conflict of interest.
The impeachment charges include bribery related to 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.
State law requires all senators to be present for an impeachment trial.
REPUBLICAN ON REPUBLICAN
Paxton's impeachment has been led from the start by his fellow Republicans,
in contrast to America's most prominent recent examples of impeachment.
Trump's impeachments in 2020 and 2021 were driven by Democrats who had
majority control of the U.S. House. In both cases, the charges they approved
failed in the Senate, where Republicans had enough votes to block conviction.
In Texas, Republicans have large majorities in both chambers, and the
state's GOP leaders hold all levers of influence.
Paxton called for Republicans to rally to his defense during Saturday's vote
in a peaceful protest at the Capitol. That echoed Trump's call for protests of
his electoral defeat on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob violently stormed the U.S.
Capitol in Washington. Paxton spoke at the rally in Washington that day before
Trump joined the fray in Texas on Saturday, posting on social media a
warning to House members that "I will fight you" if they voted to impeach. A
few hundred Paxton supporters came to watch from the gallery.
House Republicans didn't seem to care. Sixty of them, 71% of the chamber's
GOP caucus, voted to impeach.
Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi, a Paxton ally, said the party would
have to rely on the "principled leadership of the Texas Senate to restore
sanity and reason."
The move to the Senate could give Paxton's grass-roots supporters and
national figures like Trump time to apply more pressure.
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 of impeachment stem from his connections to Paul
and a remarkable revolt by Paxton's top deputies in 2020.
That fall, eight senior aides reported their boss to the FBI, accusing him
of bribery and abusing his office to help Paul. Four of them later brought a
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, as
well as 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, the state attorney
general's office has become unmoored by the disarray. Seasoned lawyers have
quit over practices they say aim to slant legal work, reward loyalists and drum
In February, Paxton agreed to settle the whistleblower lawsuit brought by
the former aides. The $3.3 million payout must be approved by the Legislature,
and Phelan has said he doesn't think taxpayers should foot the bill.
Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House investigation began.
Paxton was already likely to be noted in history books for his unprecedented
request that the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Biden's defeat of Trump in 2020.
He now is one of just three sitting officials to have been impeached in Texas.
Gov. James "Pa" Ferguson was removed in 1917 for misapplication of public
funds, embezzlement and the diversion of a special fund. State Judge O.P.
Carrillo was forced from office in 1975 for personal use of public money and
equipment and filing false financial statements.