In a monumental move that threatens to split Texas’ powerful Republican Party, the House of Representatives on Saturday voted to remove Attorney General Ken Paxton from office after a decade of scandals in which he was accused in multiple investigations of abusing of his duties and of having retaliated against those who revealed his misdeeds.
Paxton’s impeachment, triggered by a 121-23 vote with overwhelming Republican support, impeaches the 60-year-old attorney general pending trial in the Senate. An interim replacement is to be named by Governor Greg Abbott.
More: House panel recommends impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton amid allegations
The impeachment, only the third in Texas history and the first in nearly 50 years, punctuates a whirlwind week in the House that began with the three-term attorney general accusing House Speaker Dade Phelan of being drunk at work and followed with an explosive revelation that Paxton was the unidentified subject of a House investigation that began in March.
That investigation turned up little new dirt on Paxton, who has been indicted since 2015 for state securities fraud, but it was notable because it won support from Phelan and other high-ranking House Republicans. . The investigation relied heavily on a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by former assistant attorney generals whom Paxton fired in 2020 after he told federal investigators he misused the office to help a political donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
The whistleblower allegations are the subject of an ongoing federal investigation into Paxton.
In his closing remarks, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, urged members to vote in favor of impeachment.
“The evidence is substantial. It’s alarming and it’s disconcerting,” he said.
The partisan vote for impeachment was 61 Democrats and 60 Republicans.
“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 in a statement. “It was a politically motivated sham from the start.”
The basis of the House investigation was a February request by Paxton to the House to budget $3.3 million in public funds to pay for a settlement in the whistleblower’s lawsuit. Phelan, in denying the request, said it was not a good use of taxpayer funds. He then discreetly launched the investigation. Phelan, who rarely votes on House questions, announced his support for impeaching Paxton on Saturday.
Upstairs in the House, more than double the number of reporters and television and stills photographers arrived up to three hours before the start of proceedings on Saturday to cover the first impeachment process in the chamber since 1975.
Before the vote, Phelan, who chairs the 149-member House, turned the floor over to the five-member House General Investigative Committee led by Murr.
More: Why is Ken Paxton impeached? Read the 20 charges against him and Texas AG’s response
Representative Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, revealed that in recent days Paxton had phoned several House members and threatened them with political consequences if they voted to impeach him. A House member replied, “Wow!” Geren, in conversation with the American statesman after the vote, declined to identify those members or say how many there were.
Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, revealed new details uncovered by six investigators hired by the House committee. She said a young man who worked in the Attorney General’s office was troubled when he was at Paxton’s and overheard a contractor making a comment that Paul had paid to renovate the kitchen. After the incident, the man said he was offered a promotion but instead quit, Johnson said. For the next four months, the man continued to receive campaign money from Paxton, which he took as payment for his silence, despite asking for it to end, according to Johnson.
More: Nate Paul, Corruption Whistleblowers: Breaking Down the Texas AG Ken Paxton Investigation
Johnson also revealed that an internal document from the attorney general’s office that refuted whistleblower complaints was removed from the agency’s website, even though the House committee asked Paxton to keep all evidence. related to the case. Paxton’s office denied that claim and posted a link on Twitter to the document.
Saturday’s vote comes with just two days left in the 140-day legislative session, which had already revealed strained relations among top Republicans. Phelan sparred very publicly with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick over property tax relief, and Republicans in the House and Senate fought over whether to appropriate public funds for the private schools and whether to legalize online sports betting.
The House impeachment vote is analogous to a grand jury impeachment in a criminal case in that it does not prove guilt but sets up a trial in the Senate. Permanent impeachment of Paxton requires a two-thirds vote in the 31-member Senate. Paxton, a former House and Senate member, has served alongside 21 current senators.
More: How a $3.3M settlement against Texas AG Ken Paxton put him on the path to an impeachment vote
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate 19 to 12. One of the Republican members is Paxton’s wife, Senator Angela Paxton. It is not immediately known when the Senate will hold the trial.
Paxton pulled out all the stops to avoid impeachment. At a press conference on Friday, he called on supporters to come to the Capitol on Saturday to “peacefully protest.” Dozens of them flooded the House gallery and at one point prompted Phelan to slam his gavel and demand order as they applauded a floor speech against Paxton’s impeachment.
Paxton also won the support of the state’s Republican Party, which released a statement taking his side against Phelan and calling the impeachment proceedings a “sham”. On Friday, Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a far-right House member from Arlington, distributed a recorded phone call encouraging Republican voters to contact their state representative to ask them to vote against impeachment of Paxton.
Paxton also received support on Saturday from former President Donald Trump on whose behalf Paxton sued in 2020 in an unsuccessful effort to overturn Trump’s presidential election loss to Joe Biden. Trump posted on Truth Social that the impeachment process is unfair and “I will fight” any House Republican who lets it happen.
Paxton, during his Friday press conference – in which he never directly addressed the allegations and asked no questions – sought to portray the investigation as political retaliation for the dozens of actions in justice that his office has brought against the policies of the Biden administration. He argued that the basis of the 20 articles of impeachment against him are allegations that have long been in the public and, despite them, voters have twice chosen to re-elect him.
Paxton said he had hoped the House would vote against impeachment, but “if not, I look forward to a speedy resolution in the Texas Senate where I truly believe the process will be fair and just.” “.
Murr, chairman of the inquiry committee, answered questions from House members ahead of the vote. Tinderholt asked why the vote was taken to the House in the final days of the legislative session.
“I feel like it’s rushed,” Tinderholt said. “I perceived that it could be political militarization.”
Rep. John Smithee, a Republican from Amarillo who has served in the House since 1985, likened the unfolding holiday weekend to “throwing” bad news on a Friday night.
“When we go home, we will have to defend – each of us – not only the end results that we arrived at (but we) must also defend the process by which this decision was made,” Smithee said. “And, members of the House, to me, this process is indefensible.”
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas House Impeaches Attorney General Ken Paxton. Trial in the Senate afterwards.