Wednesday, June 19, 2024

What to know about Texas' move to impeach AG Ken Paxton


AUSTIN, Texas — After years of legal and ethics scandals surrounding Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s GOP-controlled House of Representatives is headed toward an impeachment vote that could quickly remove him from office. .

The extraordinary and rarely used maneuver comes in the final days of the state’s legislative session and sets up a fierce political battle. It pits Paxton, who has aligned himself with former President Donald Trump and the state’s hard-right conservatives, against the House Republican leadership, which suddenly appears to have had enough of the wrongdoing allegations that have ousted Texas’ top attorney. Has bothered for a long time.

Paxton has said that the allegations are “based on hearsay and gossip, repeating long-disproved claims.”

Here’s how the impeachment process works in Texas, and how the 60-year-old Republican faced the prospect of becoming just the third official to be impeached in the state’s nearly 200-year history:

Under the Texas Constitution and law, impeachment of a state official is similar to the process at the federal level: the action begins in the State House.

In the case, the five-member House General Investigations Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to send the 20 articles of impeachment to the full chamber. The next step is a vote by the 149-member House, where a simple majority is needed to approve the articles. Republicans control the chamber 85-64.

The House can call witnesses to testify, but this has already been done before the Investigating Committee has recommended impeachment. The panel met for several hours Wednesday as investigators listened to Paxton’s extraordinary public broadcasts of years of scandal and alleged law-breaking.

If the full House impeaches Paxton, everything is transferred to the State Senate for a “trial” to decide whether to permanently remove Paxton from office, or acquit him. Removal requires a two-thirds majority vote.

sudden threat

But there is one major difference between the Texas and federal systems: If the House votes to impeach, Paxton is immediately suspended from office pending the outcome of the Senate trial. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott will have the opportunity to appoint an interim replacement.

The GOP controls every branch of state government in Texas. Republican lawmakers and politicians alike have until this week taken a silent posture toward the myriad examples of Paxton’s misconduct and alleged law-breaking that have emerged in legal filings and news reports over the years.

It is unclear exactly when and why this changed.

In February, Paxton agreed to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by former colleagues who accused him of corruption. The $3.3 million payment must be approved by the House and Republican Speaker Dad Phelan has said he does not think taxpayers should foot the bill.

Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House investigation into Paxton began.

Republican or Republican

The five-member committee investigating Paxton is led by his fellow Republicans, in contrast to most prominent recent instances of impeachment in the US.

Federal impeachments of Trump in 2020 and 2021 were driven by Democrats, who have majority control of the US House of Representatives. In both cases, the impeachment charges approved by the House failed in the Senate, where Republicans had enough votes to block conviction.

In Texas, Republicans control both houses with large majorities and state GOP leaders have all the levers of influence. But that didn’t stop Paxton from rallying a partisan defense.

When the House investigation emerged on Tuesday, Paxton suggested it was a political attack from Phelan. They demanded the resignation of the “liberal” speaker and accused him of being drunk during the marathon session last Friday.

Phelan’s office dismissed the allegations as an attempt to “save face” by Paxton. None of the state’s other top Republicans have voiced their support for Paxton.

Paxton released a statement on Thursday characterizing the impeachment proceedings as an attempt to disenfranchise the voters who voted him a third term in November. He said that by turning against him “the RINOs in the Texas Legislature are now the same as Joe Biden.”

marriage wrinkle

But Paxton, who served five terms in the House and one in the Senate before becoming attorney general, still has allies in Austin.

One possibility is his wife, Angela, a two-term state senator, who may be in the awkward position of voting on her husband’s political future. It is unclear whether she will or should participate in the Senate trial, where 31 members tighten the margins.

In a twist, Paxton’s impeachment pertains to an extramarital affair he admitted to members of his staff years earlier. The impeachment charges include bribery for one of Paxton’s donors, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, allegedly employing a woman with whom he had an affair in exchange for legal help.

years in the making

The impeachment reaches back to 2015, when Paxton was indicted on charges of securities fraud, for which he still has not stood trial. The lawmakers accused Paxton of making false statements to state securities regulators.

But much of the article stems from Paxton’s connection to Paul and a notable rebuttal in 2020 by the attorney general’s top representative.

That fall, eight of Paxton’s senior aides reported to the FBI, accusing their boss of bribery and abusing his office to help Paul. Four of them later brought whistleblower lawsuits. The report prompted a federal criminal investigation that was taken over in February by the Washington-based Public Integrity Section of the US Department of Justice.

The impeachment charges include myriad allegations related to Paxton’s dealings with Paul. The charges included attempting to interfere with criminal proceedings and improperly issuing legal opinions to benefit Paul, and firing, harassing and interfering with employees who reported what was going on. Allegations of bribery stemmed from the affair, with Paul allegedly paying for expensive repairs to Paxton’s Austin home.

The fracas took a toll on the Texas attorney general’s office, which was one of the primary legal challengers to a Democratic administration in the White House.

In the years since Paxton’s staff moved to the FBI, his agency has been oblivious to the chaos behind the scenes, with veteran lawyers abandoning practices that they say aim to reduce legal work, reward loyalists. To do and remove dissatisfaction.

Texas History

Paxton was likely already mentioned in the history books for his unprecedented request that the US Supreme Court overturn Joe Biden’s defeat of Trump in the 2020 presidential election. He can now create history in some other way.

Only twice has the Texas House impeached a sitting official.

Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson was removed from office in 1917 for misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement, and diversion of a special fund. State Judge OP Carrillo was forced out of office in 1975 for using public funds and equipment for his own use and filing false financial statements.

—Bailberg reported from Dallas.

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