Still fighting in front of Paxton in Texas after historic impeachment deepens GOP divisions

AUSTIN, Texas — The historic impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Sunday plunged Republicans into a battle over whether to banish one of their own to America’s biggest red state after years of scandal and criminal charges that will now be the focus of a trial in the state Senate.

Paxton said he has ‘full confidence’ as he awaits judgment from the Senate, where his conservative allies include his wife, State Senator Angela Paxton, who has not said whether she will recuse herself from the proceedings to determine whether her husband will be permanently removed from office.

For now, Texas’ three-term attorney general is immediately suspended after the state House of Representatives impeached Paxton on Saturday on 20 counts that included bribery and breach of public trust.

The deciding 121-23 vote amounts to a clear rebuke from the GOP-controlled chamber after nearly a decade of Republican lawmakers taking a rather low-key stance on Paxton’s alleged misdeeds, which include accusations of securities fraud from from 2015 and an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption charges. .

He is only the third serving official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to be impeached.

“No one should be above the law, at least not the highest law officer in the state of Texas,” said Republican state Rep. David Spiller, who served on a committee to House investigation which revealed this week that it had quietly investigated Paxton. During months.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been silent on Paxton all week, including after Saturday’s impeachment. Abbott, who served as the state’s attorney general before Paxton took office in 2015, has the authority to appoint a temporary replacement pending the outcome of the Senate trial.

It is unclear when the Senate trial will take place. Paxton’s final removal would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Republican members are generally aligned with the party’s hard right. The Senate is led by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who served as state chairman for former President Donald Trump’s campaigns in Texas.

Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz came to Paxton’s defense, with the senator calling the impeachment process a “travesty” and saying the attorney general’s legal issues should be left to the courts.

“Free Ken Paxton,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social social media platform, warning that if House Republicans proceed with the impeachment, “I will fight you.”

Paxton, 60, decried the result in the House moments after dozens of his fellow supporters voted for impeachment. His office pointed to internal reports that found no wrongdoing.

“The horrific spectacle at Texas House today confirmed that the outrageous impeachment plot against me was never meant to be right or just,” Paxton said. “It was a politically motivated sham from the start.”

Lawmakers allied with Paxton attempted to discredit the investigation by noting that hired investigators, not panel members, interviewed witnesses. They also said several of the investigators had voted in the Democratic primaries, tainting impeachment, and Republican lawmakers had too little time to review the evidence.

“I think it could be political weaponization,” Rep. Tony Tinderholt, one of the more conservative members of the House, said before the vote. Republican Representative John Smithee likened the proceedings to “a Saturday mob for an afternoon lynching.”

Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said the quick impeachment decision prevented Paxton from rallying significant support and allowed quietly frustrated Republicans to rally.

“If you ask most Republicans privately, they think Paxton is an embarrassment. But most were too scared of the base to oppose him,” Jones said. By voting as a large bloc, he added, lawmakers gained political cover.

For longtime Paxton critics, however, the rebuke was years overdue.

In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law and a year later was charged with securities fraud in his hometown near Dallas, accused of defrauding investors in a tech startup . He pleaded not guilty to two felony counts carrying a potential sentence of five to 99 years.

He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was being investigated by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. Another $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton was later hired into a high-ranking position but was soon fired after posting child pornography at a meeting. In 2020, Paxton intervened in a Colorado mountain community where a Texas donor and classmate was kicked out of his lakeside home under coronavirus orders.

But what ultimately sparked the impeachment push was Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In 2020, eight senior aides told the FBI they feared Paxton was abusing his office to help Paul over the developer’s unproven claims of an elaborate plot to steal $200 million from his properties. The FBI searched Paul’s home in 2019, but he has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing. Paxton also told staff members that he had been having an affair with a woman who it later emerged worked for Paul.

The impeachment accuses Paxton of attempting to interfere in the legal proceedings and issuing legal opinions for Paul’s benefit. The bribery charges included in the indictment 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 in Paxton’s office, Chris Hilton, said Friday the attorney general paid for all repairs and renovations.

Other charges, including lying to investigators, date back to Paxton’s still-pending securities fraud indictment.

Four aides who reported Paxton to the FBI later sued under Texas whistleblower law, and in February he agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million. The House committee said the investigation was triggered by Paxton seeking legislative approval for the payment.

“Without Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement regarding his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not face impeachment,” the panel said.

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