Texas’ Republican-led House of Representatives on Saturday impeached state Attorney General Ken Paxton over articles including bribery and abuse of public trust, a sudden, historic rebuke of a GOP official who has been a frontrunner of the conservative legal movement despite years of scandal. became a star. and alleged offences.
The impeachment triggers Paxton’s immediate suspension from office pending the results of the trial in the state Senate and authorizes Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint someone else as Texas’ top attorney in the interim.
The 121-23 vote marks a sudden decline for one of the GOP’s most prominent legal combatants, who in 2020 asked the US Supreme Court to overturn Donald Trump’s election defeat of President Joe Biden. This makes Paxton the third incumbent in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to be impeached.
Paxton, 60, denounced the move after his fellow lawmakers voted for his impeachment, and his office pointed to internal reports that found no wrongdoing.
“The ugly spectacle in the Texas House today confirmed that the outrageous impeachment conspiracy against me was never fair or just,” Paxton said. “It was a politically motivated sham from the beginning,”
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over allegations that he used his office to help a donor and was indicted separately in 2015 on securities fraud charges, though he has not yet been prosecuted. His party had long taken a silent stance on the allegations – but this week 60 Republicans voted for impeachment, including House Speaker Ded Phelan.
“No one should be above the law, least of all the top law t official of the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller, a Republican member of the committee investigating Paxton, said in opening statements. Another member of the Republican committee, Rep. Charlie Gerren, said without elaborating that Paxton had called some lawmakers before the vote and threatened them with political “consequences.”
Lawmakers affiliated with Paxton sought to discredit the investigation by noting that hired investigators, not panel members, interviewed witnesses. He also said that many of the investigators had voted in the Democratic primary, tainting the impeachment, and that they had little time to review the evidence.
One of the most conservative members of the House, Rep. Tony Tinderholt, said before the vote, “I think this could be political weaponization.” Republican Representative John Smithy compared the proceedings to “a Saturday afternoon lynching mob”.
Paxton is automatically suspended from office pending a Senate trial. Final removal would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member.
Representatives for the governor, who praised Paxton when he was sworn in for a third term in January, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the temporary replacement.
Ahead of the vote on Saturday, Trump and US Sen. Ted Cruz came to Paxton’s defense, with the senator calling the impeachment process “a travesty” and saying the attorney general’s legal troubles should be left to the courts.
“Free Ken Paxton,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social, warning that if House Republicans proceed with impeachment, “I will fight you.”
In a sense, Paxton’s political crisis came with extreme speed: The House committee investigation came to the fore on Tuesday, and by Thursday lawmakers had issued 20 articles of impeachment.
But for Paxton’s detractors, the reprisal was years in the making.
In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law, and a year later he was indicted on securities fraud charges for defrauding investors in a tech startup in his hometown near Dallas. He pleaded not guilty to two felony counts with a possible 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. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree, whose son Paxton was later hired at a high-ranking job, but was soon fired after displaying child pornography at a meeting. In 2020, Paxton intervened in a Colorado mountain community where a Texas donor and college classmate faced removal from his lakeside home under coronavirus orders.
But ultimately the impeachment push ended Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
In 2020, eight top aides told the FBI they were concerned that Paxton was abusing his office to help Paul over the developer’s unproven claims that an elaborate plot to steal $200 million of his estate was underway . The FBI searched Paul’s home in 2019, but he was not charged and denied wrongdoing. Paxton also told staff members that he was having an affair with a woman who, it was later revealed, worked for Paul.
The impeachment accuses Paxton of attempting to interfere in criminal prosecutions and issuing legal opinions to benefit Paul. Its bribery allegations allege that Paul hired a woman with whom Paxton had an affair in exchange for legal help and paid for expensive renovations to the attorney general’s home.
Chris Hilton, a senior attorney in Paxton’s office, said Friday that the attorney general paid for all repairs and renovations.
Other charges, including lying to investigators, pre-date Paxton’s still-pending securities fraud indictment.
Four associates who reported on Paxton to the FBI later filed suit under Texas’s whistleblower law, and in February he agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million. The House committee stated that it was Paxton who sought legislative approval for the payments that launched their investigation.
“But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not have faced impeachment,” the panel said.