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In an unprecedented move, a Texas House committee on Thursday recommended that Attorney General Ken Paxton be impeached and removed from office, citing years of alleged misconduct and illegal practices detailed by investigators a day earlier.
During a specially called meeting Thursday afternoon, the House Public Hearing Committee voted unanimously to send the articles of impeachment to the full chamber. The House will next decide whether or not to ratify the articles of impeachment against Paxton, which could lead to the attorney general’s removal pending the outcome of an investigation by the Senate.
If a majority of the 149-member chamber approves the articles before the end of the regular legislative session on Monday, senators must convene a special session to hear the case.
Neither legislature has impeached the attorney general, an unusual move historically reserved for public officials facing serious allegations that lawmakers have abused their powers.
The decision came minutes after a representative of Paxton’s office was asked Thursday to testify before a House committee investigating his criminal activities and denounced the committee’s actions as “unlawful.”
Chris Hilton, head of public prosecutions for the attorney general’s office, interrupted a brief meeting of the five-member panel to request testimony on behalf of Paxton’s office. State Rep. Andrew Moore, R-Junction, nodded and motioned the meeting forward, which went into executive session immediately after agreeing.
“People deserve to hear from this office in the context of this investigation,” Hilton said. “The voters want Ken Paxton and this committee to be trying to override the will of the voters by investigating him, by not allowing us to be heard here today, and by not reaching out to us at any time during this investigative process. We deserve to be heard here today.
Hilton told reporters that the committee’s actions were illegal under a section of Texas law that states “a state official may not be removed from office for an act committed by the official before the official was elected to the office.”
“Any allegation can only be about conduct from the most recent elections,” Hilton argued.
Before adjourning, the committee voted to issue “security letters,” which instruct the Public Safety and Texas Facilities Commission to protect relevant information. The committee did not discuss what information should be protected.
Board members did not discuss articles of impeachment during or after the meeting.
On Wednesday, the panel heard three hours of riveting testimony that detailed Paxton’s years of misconduct and questionable actions, including criminal charges for securities fraud and accusations by his former top deputies. .
Many of the allegations detailed Wednesday were already known, but airing them publicly revealed the broader scope of the committee’s investigation into the state’s top lawyer and a member of the governing Republican Party. The investigative committee has broad powers to investigate state officials for wrongdoing, and three weeks ago the House ousted Rep. Brian Slaton, R-Royce City, on its recommendation.
Only the Texas House can bring impeachment proceedings against state officials, leading to a hearing by the Senate. Removal requires two-thirds support in both chambers. It has only happened twice in Texas history, for Governor James Ferguson in 1917 and District Judge Opie Carrillo in 1975.
During Wednesday’s hearing, investigators told the panel’s three Republicans and two Democrats about allegations that Paxton repeatedly abused his office to help his friend and political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Pauly. They largely relied on the claims of four former senior employees who filed a whistleblower case in 2022.
Committee investigators said Paxton may have committed at least three crimes in an attempt to help Paul with various legal problems. These included spending $72,000 in staff labor on tasks benefiting the developer, providing him with an internal FBI file related to the investigation of Paul, and hiring an outside attorney for $25,000 to perform work primarily benefiting Paul.
The panel also discussed pending criminal charges against Paxton from 2015, when a Collin County grand jury indicted him on two counts of felony securities fraud related to private business deals in 2011. Without disclosing that the McKinney technology company was paying him to promote his stock.
Suddenly, three-term incumbent Paxton found himself in the greatest political danger of his tenure — not from the FBI, which began investigating him in 2020, but from a little-known legislative committee.
Although panel investigators said Paxton may have broken several laws, impeachment is ultimately a political process. Members of the House have broad discretion to decide what constitutes an impeachable offence.
For Democrats, the calculation is simple. They have been portraying Paxton as corrupt for years, and they will be unanimously in favor of impeachment. Some Democrats started, including Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos of Richardson call Deposed on Wednesday.
Republicans have tried to attack a top state official in their own party, who is popular with conservative voters and survived a primary election last year, with similar allegations of misconduct.
Paxton has positioned himself as a champion of far-right causes and an ally of former President Donald Trump. Her unsuccessful lawsuit challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election cemented her appeal in conservative legal circles, and Trump later endorsed her re-election bid. Paxton’s path to survival involves mobilizing this base.
“Few people in America have done more to advance the conservative legal movement,” former Trump adviser Stephen Miller tweeted Thursday. “Stay with Ken.”
Two top Republicans, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Don Patrick, have yet to come to Paxton’s defense, both declining to comment on the group’s allegations against the attorney general.
But Paxton has alienated some House Republicans. He has repeatedly criticized House Speaker Tate Phelan, R-Beaumont, and his leadership for not being conservative enough. The attorney general called on Phelan to resign, hours before Tuesday’s revelation that the investigative team had opened an undercover investigation into Paxton, pointing to a video of the speaker slurring his words to accuse the speaker of presiding over the House while drunk.
No Republicans have yet called for Paxton’s impeachment. But Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, urged the public to tune in to Wednesday’s panel hearing, which he said will discuss “important issues.”
“Make no mistake,” Leach said on Twitter. “The Texas House will do our jobs and uphold our oaths of office.”
Phelan, who cited his role as the House chief of staff as the reason he did not comment on the sexual misconduct allegations against Rep. Brian Slaton until the House expelled him in early May, abandoned his approach to Paxton. The speaker on Wednesday called the committee investigators’ report “deeply disturbing” and said Paxton “appears to have routinely abused his office for personal gain.”
This is a developing story and will be updated regularly.
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