Battle rages in Texas between AG Paxton and GOP-controlled House
A civil war is raging among Texas Republicans over the fate of the state’s embattled attorney general.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) has spent the last four years in legal limbo, after being indicted by a state grand jury for securities fraud in 2016. But he now faces what may be the biggest threat of his career from the GOP-controlled state House.
The very public knife fight has seen dueling allegations of public drunkenness, corruption and infidelity.
On Wednesday, four former state prosecutors commissioned by the state House publicly unveiled the results of their sweeping investigation into years of alleged misconduct by Paxton.
Headlining those allegations: charges that the attorney general took bribes from an Austin real estate developer, then fired four deputies for reporting it to law enforcement — and then leaving taxpayers on the hook for a $3.3 million settlement with the whistleblowers.
Paxton is also accused of seeking a sweetheart job for a woman he was having an affair with and who had worked in his wife’s office.
“It is alarming and very serious that we are having this discussion into why millions of taxpayer dollars have been asked to remedy” Paxton’s alleged misconduct, committee chair Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction) told the committee.
The allegations “curl my mustache,” added Murr, who sports an elaborate wax-tipped handlebar.
In addition to perpetrating crimes himself, Paxton has been “acting with other individuals in a conspiracy to commit crimes that violate both the state of Texas’s laws and federal laws,” one member of the House investigative team told the oversight committee.
The explosive charges came amid a broader fight between the embattled attorney general and Republican House leadership, as The Texas Tribune reported.
On Tuesday, Paxton accused House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) of presiding over Tuesday’s session “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication” after a video emerged of the GOP leader tripping over his words from the dais.
In that statement, Paxton blamed Phelan for the House’s failure to “pass critical conservative priorities including protecting the integrity of our elections and preventing Chinese spies from controlling Texas land.”
He added, “I hope Speaker Phelan gets the help he needs.”
But on Wednesday morning, Phelan revealed that the House general investigating committee — which Paxton had called on to investigate Phelan — was already investigating Paxton’s “alleged illegal conduct.”
Paxton’s statement “amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face,” Phelan said.
In the whistleblower settlement agreement announced earlier this year, Paxton and the plaintiffs had agreed that the state legislature would pay out the money — pending House and Senate approval.
But in March, the Texas legislature decisively rejected that idea — and the state House began preparing the investigation of Paxton.
The investigation results were publicly aired Wednesday, as four Texas career prosecutors outlined in grueling detail favors Paxton had done for realtor Nate Paul — and what Paul did for him in exchange, as The Texas Tribune reported.
“I ask that you look at the pattern and the deviations from the norm, questions not just of criminal activity but of ethical impropriety and for lacking in transparency,” Erin Epley, lead counsel for the investigating committee, told lawmakers.
“I ask you to consider the benefits [for Paxton].”
The whistleblowers’ allegations centered on the claims that Paxton had used the state attorney general’s office to investigate Paul’s enemies and intervened on his behalf when a charity sued him.
In return, Paxton received a “floor to ceiling renovation” of his home in Austin — and a job as a construction manager for his alleged mistress, Epley told lawmakers.
The woman — who had no construction experience — was a former staffer in the office of Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton (R).
Paul was sentenced to jail in March for lying to a Texas court.
Paxton is also in trouble for a $100,000 undisclosed gift he received from a North Texas medical entrepreneur — who was himself subsequently ordered to pay $3.5 million to settle allegations that it had defrauded Medicare and Medicaid.
That $100,000 was supposed to be disclosed to the Texas ethics commission — but “not until it was caught was the question asked,” Epley said.
The size of the gift aroused surprise from the legislators.
“Not many people walk up to me and give me $100,000. In fact, it’s never happened,” state Rep Charlie Geren (R) said.
The four aides — all of whom were conservative Republicans — had complained about this conduct to state and federal law enforcement.
In a lawsuit charging wrongful termination, which eventually led to the $3.3 million settlement, the fired lawyers accused Paxton of a “bizarre, obsessive use of power.”
It said some of Paxton’s actions “were so egregious and so contrary to appropriate use of his office, that they could only have been prompted by illicit motives such as a desire to repay debts, pay hush money, or reciprocate favors extended by Paul,” the Austin realtor said.
The Hill has reached out to Paxton’s office for comment. During Wednesday’s hearing, Paxton called into a Dallas radio show to complain about the proceedings, the Tribune noted.
“So this is a level that is shocking to me, especially from a Republican House,” Paxton told the radio host.
“This is what they have time to do as opposed to some of the important things,” he said.
The attorney general now faces the prospect of impeachment by the House and a trial in the Senate.
His securities fraud investigation — now run from the Department of Justice central offices in Washington, D.C. — also remains ongoing.
And Paxton faces a professional misconduct investigation stemming from complaints by the Texas State Bar Association over his role in challenging the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s 2022 election.
“Texas Bar: I’ll see you and the leftists that control you in court,” Paxton said when the complaint was filed last year.
Despite his legal troubles, Paxton cruised to his third term last year. He beat his top Republican challenger by 36 points in a primary runoff and won the general election by 10 points.
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