Texas’ Republican-led House voted Saturday to impeach the state’s Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, finally moving to show him the door after a long series of scandals and possible crimes.
Lawmakers introduced 20 articles of impeachment against the three-term attorney general, whose antics have roiled the Texas GOP.
The affirmative 121-23 vote means Paxton will be suspended as the state’s top law enforcement officer pending the outcome of a trial in the Texas Senate, with Gov. Greg Abbott (R) given the option of appointing an interim attorney general. The timing of a trial is uncertain, however, given that the current Texas legislative session ends Monday.
Paxton is the first person impeached in the state of Texas in nearly half a century.
A Republican-led investigatory committee earlier this week spelled out the various ways Paxton is accused of abusing the power of his office through bribery, retaliation and a culture of fear.
The committee recommended Wednesday that Paxton be impeached at a hearing that sparked an indignant response from the attorney general, who accused Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan of being a “liberal” who was drunk on the job and needed to resign.
Phelan’s office told local outlet KDFW that the attorney general was just trying to “save face.”
Meanwhile, the Texas Republican Party Chair, Matt Rinaldi, came down on Paxton’s side in the impeachment and accused Phelan of trying “to stop the conservative direction of our state” by working with Democrats.
Paxton has been a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump and styled himself a conservative culture warrior. He has proven popular with Texas voters. Trump himself threatened state lawmakers if the vote goes against his ally, writing on social media, “I will fight you if it does.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the impeachment proceedings a “travesty.”
Paxton is accused of using his office to help a political donor, the Austin-based real estate developer Nate Paul, navigate legal entanglements in exchange for an elaborate home remodel for Paxton and a job for a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair.
In 2020, a group of Paxton’s top aides came forward to accuse the attorney general of abusing his power. Weeks later, several of them were fired. The whistleblowers promptly sued Paxton, and that case reached a $3.3 million settlement agreement back in February. There is tension over how the money will be paid out, however; Phelan and other lawmakers are against using taxpayer funds to cover Paxton’s misconduct.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at then-President Donald Trump's rally on Jan. 6, 2021, just before rioters stormed the Capitol.
Texas state Rep. Ann Johnson (D) likened Paxton to a criminal during the roughly four hours of statements and debate that preceded the vote.
“Criminals have an M.O. ... where they have patterns that develop over time,” she said, adding that Paxton’s pattern was to do wrong until confronted.
A decade ago, Paxton pocketed a $1,000 Montblanc pen from a courthouse security bin when its owner had been in a hurry, then returned it once the rightful owner had looked through security footage.
In 2015, he was charged with felony securities fraud in a case that is still playing out eight years later because of continued procedural delays.
Last spring, he was slapped with a professional misconduct lawsuit from the State Bar of Texas over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election with supposed evidence of voter fraud. Paxton retaliated by forbidding his staffers from speaking at any events organized by the state bar, according to the Texas Tribune.
In September, he ran out of his house and hopped into a truck driven by his wife to avoid being served a subpoena to testify in a lawsuit relating to one of Texas’ severe anti-abortion laws.
About four hours of statements and debate preceded the vote.
Multiple Republican legislators alleged that state House investigators had not handled the allegations on the level of a criminal trial. But they did not need to ― the state House is meant to determine whether there should be a trial on the merits of the accusations, akin to a grand jury. The state Senate handles the trial, which determines whether the official will be ejected from their role.
“I look forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate, where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just,” Paxton said in a statement following the vote.