Texas’ Republican-led House of Representatives dealt a significant blow to state Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday, impeaching him on charges that included bribery and abuse of public trust. This historic impeachment represents a sudden downfall for Paxton, who despite years of scandal and alleged crimes, rose to prominence as a star of the conservative legal movement within the GOP.
The impeachment proceedings trigger Paxton’s immediate suspension from office, pending the outcome of a trial in the state Senate. Furthermore, Republican Governor Greg Abbott is now empowered to appoint an interim attorney general for Texas during this period.
The 121-23 vote in favor of impeachment signifies a dramatic turn of events for one of the GOP’s most notable legal combatants. Notably, Paxton, in 2020, sought to challenge President Joe Biden’s electoral victory over Donald Trump by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. With this impeachment, Paxton becomes only the third sitting official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to face such disciplinary action.
Following the vote, Paxton expressed his dismay, declaring, “The ugly spectacle in the Texas House today confirmed the outrageous impeachment plot against me was never meant to be fair or just. It was a politically motivated sham from the beginning.” Paxton’s office also referred to internal reports that found no evidence of wrongdoing on his part.
Paxton has been under investigation by the FBI for several years on allegations that he leveraged his position to assist a donor. Additionally, he was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, although he has yet to stand trial. While his party had previously taken a muted stance on these allegations, this week witnessed a notable shift as 60 out of 85 House Republicans, including Speaker Dade Phelan, voted in favor of impeachment.
Republican Representative David Spiller, a member of the committee that investigated Paxton, asserted, “No one person should be above the law, least not the top law officer of the state of Texas.” Another committee member, Republican Representative Charlie Geren, without providing further details, claimed that Paxton had contacted certain lawmakers prior to the vote and threatened them with political “consequences.”
Lawmakers aligned with Paxton attempted to discredit the investigation by highlighting that the witnesses were interviewed by hired investigators, rather than panel members. They also alleged that several investigators had voted in Democratic primaries, which they claimed tainted the impeachment process. Additionally, they argued that they were not given sufficient time to review the evidence.
Republican Representative Tony Tinderholt, one of the House’s staunch conservatives, voiced his concern, stating, “I perceive it could be political weaponization.” Meanwhile, Republican Representative John Smithee likened the proceedings to “a Saturday mob out for an afternoon lynching.”
As a result of the impeachment, Paxton is automatically suspended from office pending the Senate trial. To achieve final removal, a two-thirds vote in the Senate would be required. It is worth noting that Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member of the Senate.
Representatives of Governor Greg Abbott, who praised Paxton while inaugurating him for a third term in January, have yet to respond to requests for comment regarding a temporary replacement.
Prior to the vote, former President Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz rallied to Paxton’s defense. Senator Cruz called the impeachment process “a travesty” and argued that Paxton’s legal troubles should be left to the courts. Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, and wrote, “Free Ken Paxton,” while warning that he would fight House Republicans if they proceeded with the impeachment.
In a whirlwind turn of events, Paxton’s political predicament unfolded rapidly, with the House committee’s investigation becoming public on Tuesday, and by Thursday, lawmakers had issued 20 articles of impeachment.
Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, remarked on the swift impeachment process, stating, “If you ask most Republicans privately, they feel Paxton is an embarrassment. But most were too afraid of the base to oppose him.” Jones further explained that by voting as a unified bloc, Republican lawmakers provided themselves with political cover.
However, to Paxton’s longstanding critics, the impeachment was long overdue. In 2014, Paxton admitted to violating Texas securities law, and a year later, he was indicted on securities fraud charges related to defrauding investors in a tech startup. Despite pleading not guilty, these legal troubles continued to haunt him.
Paxton’s controversial actions extended to his acceptance of funds from donors under investigation and allegations of misusing his office. The impeachment push was triggered by his association with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul. In 2020, eight top aides reported to the FBI that Paxton was potentially misusing his office to assist Paul in unsubstantiated claims of a conspiracy against his properties. Paxton also admitted to having an affair with a woman who worked for Paul.
The impeachment charges against Paxton accuse him of attempting to interfere in foreclosure lawsuits and issuing favorable legal opinions to benefit Paul. The bribery charges allege that Paul employed the woman with whom Paxton had an affair in exchange for legal assistance and financed costly renovations to Paxton’s home. In response, Chris Hilton, a senior lawyer for Paxton’s office, stated on Friday that the attorney general had personally paid for all repairs and renovations.
Additional charges, including lying to investigators, stem from Paxton’s pending securities fraud indictment.
Four of the aides who reported Paxton to the FBI later filed lawsuits under Texas’ whistleblower law, resulting in a $3.3 million settlement in February, which Paxton sought legislative approval for. This settlement request sparked the House committee’s investigation that ultimately led to the impeachment.
The repercussions of the impeachment are substantial for Paxton, who now faces an uncertain future as his case moves to the Senate trial. Meanwhile, Texas awaits the appointment of an interim attorney general by Governor Abbott to fill the role during the trial.
As the political landscape shifts and Paxton’s legal battles intensify, the implications of his impeachment extend beyond Texas. With notable figures like former President Trump and Senator Cruz lending their support to Paxton, the case has become a focal point for political debate and scrutiny.
The coming months will determine Paxton’s fate, as he fights to defend his reputation and career amidst a whirlwind of allegations and charges.