In a nearly unprecedented move, a Texas House committee voted May 25 to recommend the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton.
During an impromptu meeting, the House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously to send articles of impeachment to the full House. The bipartisan committee includes three Republican representatives (chair Andrew Murr of Junction, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and David Spiller of Jacksboro) and two Democrats (vice-chair Ann Johnson of Houston and Oscar Longoria of Mission).
The recommendation to impeach Paxton and remove him from office comes after a monthslong investigation into alleged misconduct by Texas’ top lawyer, which centered around a $3.3 million whistleblower settlement. Paxton was indicted for securities fraud in 2015, but the case has not gone to trial.
The articles of impeachment were filed and distributed to House lawmakers a few hours after the committee meeting. The 20 articles against Paxton include:
- 7 counts of disregard of official duty
- 2 counts of misapplication of public resources
- 2 counts of constitutional bribery
- 2 counts of obstruction of justice
- 3 counts of false statements in official records
- 1 count of conspiracy or attempted conspiracy
- 1 count of dereliction of duty
- 1 count of unfitness for office
- 1 count of abuse of public trust
An official date has not been set for the House to vote on the proposed impeachment. If a majority of House lawmakers vote to impeach Paxton, the Senate would then hold a trial to determine his fate.
The legislative session ends on May 29, but lawmakers could move to extend their time at the Capitol to continue the proceedings.
Under state law, Paxton would be suspended from performing his official duties during the impeachment trial. Gov. Greg Abbott could choose to temporarily appoint someone to take his place or leave the role vacant.
In a statement following the committee's vote, Paxton said the investigation was "an illegitimate attempt to overthrow the will of the people and disenfranchise the voters of our state."
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton allegedly broke multiple laws and misused his office to help a campaign donor, a group of investigators told a Texas House committee on May 24.
Investigators presented information to the House General Investigating Committee for over three hours, detailing the attorney general’s alleged misconduct. The hearing is part of a monthslong investigation surrounding a $3.3 million whistleblower settlement between Paxton and four former staffers.
The whistleblowers said they were fired in 2020 after reporting concerns about Paxton's actions to federal authorities.
Paxton committed multiple crimes ranging from a misdemeanor to felonies, the investigators said. These include securities fraud; abuse of official capacity; misuse of official information; accepting gifts as a public servant; and retaliation and official oppression.
The attorney general has been under indictment for securities fraud since 2015, but the case has not gone to trial due to multiple issues, including determining a venue where the case will be heard.
Investigators said Paxton abused his power and misused office resources to benefit Nate Paul, a real estate developer who donated $25,000 to Paxton’s campaign.
“Would it be fair to say the OAG’s office was effectively hijacked for an investigation by Nate Paul through the attorney general?” Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, asked the panel.
“That would be my opinion,” lead investigator Erin Epley said.
Investigators said they interviewed 15 people from the Office of the Attorney General. All but one expressed “grave concerns” about retaliation from Paxton.
Most of the information discussed on May 24 was already public, but had not been previously discussed in this type of hearing.
The day before, Paxton called for House Speaker Dade Phelan’s resignation, criticizing Phelan for not passing certain priority legislation and accusing him of being intoxicated on the House floor.
In a statement, Cait Wittman, a spokesperson for Phelan, said Paxton’s comments were “a last ditch effort to save face” and take attention away from himself ahead of the committee hearing, which had been previously scheduled.
After investigators shared their testimony, Paxton said in a tweet that the hearing was an attempt to “disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as Attorney General,” calling House leaders and the committee “liberal” and “highly partisan.”
Phelan is a Republican, and the committee contains two Democrats and three Republicans.
Violating the law
During the hearing, investigators said Paxton repeatedly pushed his staff to “ignore the law and legal precedent” in order to get information and documents requested by Paul.
Epley told the committee that Paxton’s office obtained sealed documents about a federal search warrant against Paul during the summer of 2020. Days later, one of Paxton’s aides hand-delivered a manila envelope to Paul’s office. The contents of the envelope were unknown, but Epley said Paul’s attorneys stopped asking for the records following the delivery.
The documents were protected by open records law since it was an ongoing investigation, Epley said — meaning Paul should have been denied access.
Investigators said Paxton also hired an outside attorney to assist Paul with a federal investigation against his businesses. The attorney issued 39 grand jury subpoenas in the case, which investigators said broke multiple protocols for the attorney general’s office.
One condition of the $3.3 million settlement is that it must be paid for by the state. The Texas Legislature has not authorized the payment, with various lawmakers and the House Speaker expressing concerns about the use of taxpayer money. The Legislature has until May 29, the last day of the regular session, to fund the settlement.
“It is alarming... and very serious as to having this discussion and why millions of [taxpayer] dollars have been asked to remedy what has alleged to be some wrongs by various people,” committee chair Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, said near the end of the hearing. “That’s something that we have to grapple with; it’s challenging.
The committee adjourned without making any decisions regarding the investigation or announcing another meeting.
Upon conclusion of the investigation, the committee could recommend the censure or impeachment of Paxton.
Earlier this session, the House General Investigating Committee recommended that Rep. Bryan Slaton of Royse City be removed from the House for alleged misconduct, including providing alcohol to and having sexual intercourse with a 19-year-old legislative staffer. The House voted unanimously to expel the former lawmaker on May 9.
Regarding Paxton, the final decision would be made by the full Legislature, which could likely consider the case outside of the regular legislative session.