AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The GOP-led Texas House of Representatives was set to hold historic impeachment proceedings against Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday as the scandal-ridden Republican called on supporters to protest a vote that could lead to his deposition.
The House scheduled an afternoon start for debate on whether to impeach and suspend Paxton over allegations of bribery, incapacity for office and abuse of public trust — just some of the allegations the top Texas attorney has faced during most of his three served their terms of office.
The hearing marks what could be a remarkably sudden downfall for one of the GOP’s most prominent legal fighters, who in 2020 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Joe Biden’s election defeat of President Donald Trump. Only two officials in Texas’ nearly 200-year history have been impeached.
Paxton, 60, has called the impeachment proceedings “political theater” based on “rumors and gossip, the parroting of long-disproved allegations” and an attempt to disenfranchise the voters who re-elected him in November. On Friday, he asked supporters “to come peacefully and make their voices heard tomorrow at the Capitol.”
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over allegations that he used his office to help a donor and was charged separately in 2015 on securities fraud charges, though he has yet to face trial. Until this week, his fellow Republicans took a muted stance on the allegations.
Impeachment only requires a simple majority in the House. That means only a small fraction of the 85 Republicans would have to join the 64 Democrats to vote against him.
If Paxton is impeached, he would be removed from office pending a Senate trial, and it would be up to Republican Governor Greg Abbott to designate an interim replacement. Final removal requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member.
Texas’ top elected Republicans have been remarkably quiet about Paxton this week. But some party members began rallying around him on Friday, with state GOP chairman Matt Rinaldi calling the process a “sham.”
In a sense, Paxton’s political danger arrived with dizzying speed: The House committee’s investigation into him came to light on Tuesday, and by Thursday lawmakers had published 20 articles of impeachment.
But for Paxton’s detractors, the rebuke was years overdue.
In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law, and a year later was indicted on securities fraud charges in his hometown near Dallas, accused of defrauding investors in a tech startup. He pleaded not guilty to two felony counts that carry a possible sentence of five to 99 years.
He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was under investigation by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton was later hired for 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 a college classmate had to be evicted from his lakeside home under coronavirus orders.
But what ultimately sparked the impeachment drive was Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
In 2020, eight top employees told the FBI they were concerned that Paxton was misusing his office to help Paul with the developer’s unsubstantiated claims that there was an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million from his properties. The FBI searched Paul’s home in 2019, but he has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing. Paxton also told staff that he was having an affair with a woman who, it turned out, worked for Paul.
The impeachment accuses Paxton of interfering in foreclosure lawsuits and issuing legal opinions in favor of Paul. The bribery allegations allege that Paul employed the woman with whom Paxton was having an affair in exchange for legal assistance and that he paid for expensive renovations to the Attorney General’s home.
A senior attorney for Paxton’s office, Chris Hilton, said Friday that the attorney general paid for all repairs and renovations.
Other charges, including lying to investigators, date back to Paxton’s pending securities fraud indictment.
Four of the aides who reported Paxton to the FBI later sued under Texas whistleblowing law, and in February agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million. The House committee said it was Paxton seeking regulatory approval for the payout that prompted their investigation.
“But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement for his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not face impeachment,” the panel said.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.