A Texas House ethics panel recommended that Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) be impeached after a months-long investigation into alleged abuse of office.
The Republican-led committee unanimously approved the recommendations Thursday after outside attorneys presented evidence accusing the state attorney general of sweeping impropriety that verged on criminality, including claims Paxton had used his position to help a political ally, engaged in bribery and attempted to obstruct justice. The investigators also said Paxton had retaliated against staffers who accused him of crimes, pointing to an ongoing lawsuit brought against him by four former aides.
The recommendations included 20 articles of impeachment.
Texas lawmakers could vote on the matter as early as Friday. If Paxton is impeached in the state House by a simple majority, he would be required to temporarily step down and be barred from performing his duties while the state Senate holds a trial on the impeachment counts. A vote of two-thirds of the state senators would be required to approve his removal from office.
Paxton responded with a brief message on Twitter after the recommendation was made public, saying: “Overturning elections begins behind closed doors.”
He elaborated in a statement later in the day, castigating the investigation as an “illegitimate attempt to overthrow the will of the people.”
“Four liberal lawyers put forward a report to the House General Investigating Committee based on hearsay and gossip, parroting long-disproven claims,” he said. “By attacking the Office of the Attorney General, corrupted politicians in the Texas House, led by liberal Speaker Dade Phelan, are actively destroying Texas’s position as the most powerful backstop against the Biden agenda in the entire country.”
Impeachment is exceedingly rare in Texas. Only two officials have ever been impeached and removed from office in the state’s history, and the latest was almost 50 years ago, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Whatever happens, this week’s developments present a major threat to one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas and will force lawmakers to reckon with years of scandals and claims surrounding his office.
The investigation began in March amid a settlement made with Paxton’s former staffers for $3.3 million. The attorney general asked the Texas Legislature to fund the agreement, but lawmakers, including Phelan, a Republican, said he didn’t provide enough explanation as to why the state should foot the bill.
Paxton had gone on a tirade against Phelan in recent days, accusing the speaker of being drunk during a House session last week.
The attorney general has maintained the support of voters for years despite ongoing ethics and legal scandals and handily won reelection last November to a third term in office. He was indicted on federal securities fraud charges in 2015, although that case has yet to go to trial. He was also investigated for bribery allegations in 2017 before he was cleared of those charges.