House panel recommends impeaching Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton amid allegations
The Texas House General Investigation Committee on Thursday sent a recommendation to the full chamber to impeach embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton amid a series of allegations of abuse of office heard one day earlier against the state's top elected law enforcement official.
Later Thursday night, the committee's chair, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, formally informed the full House that the committee filed 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton and posted them on the official House website. The articles include two counts of "constitutional bribery," two counts of "obstruction of justice" and numerous other allegations of wrongdoing by Paxton dating back several years.
He also provided transcripts and video from Wednesday's committee hearing.
"I urge you to read the transcript and view the video also available on the committee's website," Murr told members. "After a period of time for your review and reflection, I intend to call up the resolution adopting the articles of impeachment."
The unanimous vote to impeach Paxton by the committee — made up by three Republicans and two Democrats — came after almost no discussion other than it was ordering the Texas Department of Public Safety to keep secure any material that might be relevant in the matter.
"The chair moves that the committee adopts the articles of impeachment against Warren Kenneth Paxton, attorney general of the state of Texas, as embodied in the draft resolution and directs the chair to file that resolution with the chief clerk of the House. The clerk will call the roll," Murr said without elaboration.
The vote capped a dramatic few days in the Capitol in which Paxton first called on House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign on Tuesday, saying he appeared to be intoxicated during a floor session a few days earlier.
But that was soon overshadowed when the investigations panel on Wednesday heard damning testimony from five outside lawyers with prosecutorial experience alleging the three-term attorney general had abused his office by using his authority to help a political ally and donor.
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The first bribery count related to an allegation that Paxton played a role in the decision by his political ally and campaign contributor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, to put a woman on his payroll with whom the attorney general was having an affair.
"Specifically, Paxton benefited from Nate Paul's employment of a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair. Paul received favorable legal assistance from, or specialized access to, the office of the attorney general," the section of the impeachment document states.
The second bribery count alleges that Paul provided renovations to Paxton's home.
Paxton is alleged in the articles to have misappropriated public resources and “used his official powers by causing employees of his office to perform services for his benefit and the benefit of others.”
The House committee found that Paxton’s actions while in his position as attorney general amount to a dereliction of duty, unfitness for office and an abuse of public trust.
The House Committee also accused Paxton of making false and misleading statements in official records in response to the whistleblower allegations.
Paxton, according to the committee’s impeachment articles, failed to accurately disclose his financial interests and personal financial statements in required reports to the Texas Ethics Commission.
It was unclear Thursday when the full House will take up the impeachment recommendation. If the 149-member House, where Republicans enjoy a 85-64 majority, votes to impeach Paxton, his fate will be decided in the Senate where he once served and where his wife currently serves. A two-thirds vote of the Senate, controlled 19-12 by Republicans, is needed for removal.
But after the House was presented with the impeachment documents, several members questioned how the process would unfold, including what role rank-and-file members would play as the chamber decides whether to move forward with impeaching Paxton.
"You get to dictate whether we ask questions or not, will you allow members to ask questions on an important issue," Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, asked. "This is probably one of the most important things that we've done since I've been in the Texas House."
House Speaker Dade Phelan promised that the chamber's rules for debate would be followed.
In a statement posted on the attorney general's office's Twitter account, Paxton was at once pugnacious and defiant. He said the House was "actively destroying Texas' position as the most powerful backstop" against the Biden administration's policies.
"The committee has asked the Texas House of Representatives to use their unsubstantiated report to overturn the results of a free and fair election," Paxton said.
He called the testimony from the committee's investigating lawyers "hearsay" and "gossip," and even though the statement was posted on his government page, he dismissed GOP House leaders as "RINOs," the partisan shorthand for "Republicans in name only."
More: Will Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton be impeached? Here's what we know.
Before the impeachment recommendation was made Thursday, the attorney general's office's top litigator attempted to testify before the panel but was rebuffed by committee members. In a combative question and answer session later with reporters, Chris Hilton said the impeachment effort was "illegal" and that much of Wednesday's testimony was false.
"Because we've never been invited to participate, it was not surprising to us that the testimony yesterday was filled with errors big and small," Hilton said, but declined to say what in the testimony was erroneous.
"Our system gives the accused the right to offer and present evidence, cross examine witnesses and to know the facts they are being confronted with. What you heard yesterday was hearsay within hearsay," he said.
The move toward impeachment, which had not been discussed publicly during the legislative session, dominated the backroom and lobby gatherings inside the Capitol even before Wednesday's hearing began.
Four lawyers hired by the investigations panel methodically laid out a series of allegations against Paxton ranging from a 2015 state securities case that has led to a longstanding three-count criminal indictment against the attorney general; to an extramarital affair that he tried to keep from his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton; and an ongoing federal investigation into his connection to a campaign donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
The lawyers alleged that Paxton had abused his office and retaliated against staff members who had warned him his actions were exposing him to legal jeopardy.
Investigators laid bare the details of an ongoing whistleblower lawsuit brought against Paxton in 2020 by four former aides who claim they were fired from his office after they alerted federal authorities that the attorney general might have committed crimes by intervening in multiple legal matters involving Paul.
In February, Paxton and the whistleblowers reached a tentative $3.3 million settlement agreement that was to have been paid with state funds. That agreement, for which Phelan and others expressed grave concerns, was the catalyst for the investigation that led to the committee's vote Thursday.
Until Tuesday, the committee had not made public its examination of Paxton's actions.
Talking with reporters, Hilton insisted that impeachment should be off the table. He cited the section of the state statute governing impeachment that says: "An officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer's election to office."
More: House panel hears details of complaints against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Much of the wrongdoing alleged by the committee's lawyers occurred before the 2022 election in which Paxton won his third term. It remains unclear if the statute refers to the most recent election or the first election that put the attorney general in office.
Hilton made clear he interprets the statute to mean the most recent election.
"The voters have rejected these smears; they've rejected these attacks," he said. "And this committee is trying to undermine the will of the voters by investigating him without even so much as reaching out to us to participate in the process."
Murr declined to speak with reporters after the committees vote. Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who serves on the investigations committee and is a 22-year House veteran, spoke briefly with reporters and agreed the vote was historic.
"I guess it is," Geren said, declining to address Hilton's remarks. "I don't know what he was talking about so I can't comment."
Staff writer Hogan Gore contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: House panel recommends impeachment for Texas AG Ken Paxton