AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The GOP-led Texas House of Representatives was set to hold historic impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday as the scandal-ridden Republican called on his supporters to protest a vote that could lead to his eviction.
The House has scheduled an early afternoon to debate whether to impeach and suspend Paxton from office over allegations of bribery, unfitness for office and breach of public trust – some of them. charges that have followed Texas’ top lawyer for most of his three terms.
The hearing sets up what could be a remarkably sudden downfall 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 loss to President Donald Trump. Only two officials in Texas’ nearly 200-year history have been impeached.
Paxton, 60, called the impeachment proceedings “political theatre” based on “hearsay and gossip, repeating claims long refuted”, and an attempt to disenfranchise voters who re-elected him in November. On Friday, he asked supporters “to peacefully bring their voices to the Capitol tomorrow.”
Paxton has been investigated by the FBI for years on charges that he used his office to help a donor and was charged separately with securities fraud in 2015, though he has not yet been judged. Until this week, his fellow Republicans took a mum stance on the allegations.
Impeachment requires only a simple majority in the House. That means only a small fraction of his 85 Republicans would have to join 64 Democrats in voting against him.
If impeached, Paxton would be removed from office pending a trial in the Senate, and it would fall to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint an acting replacement. Permanent withdrawal would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, of which Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member.
Texas’ top elected Republicans have been notably 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 “sham.”
In a sense, Paxton’s political peril has come at breakneck speed: The House committee’s investigation into him came to light on Tuesday and, on Thursday, lawmakers issued 20 articles of impeachment.
But for Paxton’s critics, the reprimand 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 presenting 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 that an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million from his properties was underway. . 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. His corruption 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 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 of the 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 it was Paxton seeking legislative approval for the payment that sparked their investigation.
“Without Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement regarding his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not face impeachment,” the panel said.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.