AUSTIN — The Texas House Committee on General Investigating has unanimously voted to recommend state Attorney General Ken Paxton be impeached.
The five-member committee — composed of three Republicans and two Democrats — met Thursday, the day after a panel of House-hired investigators laid out several instances where they believe Paxton engaged in abuse of power and other criminal behavior.
The investigation stems from a whistleblower lawsuit involving four top-ranking officials working within the Office of the Attorney General.
In 2020, eight former top deputies to Paxton accused him of bribery and abuse of office.
They alleged Paxton used the agency to help Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and friend and campaign donor of Paxton. The whistleblowers said they reported Paxton to federal authorities after attempting multiple times to inform him that he was exposing himself to criminal liability.
On Wednesday, Paxton said in a statement that “every allegation is easily disproved.”
Following the allegations, four of the eight employees — all of whom were personally recruited to the job by Paxton — filed a lawsuit claiming they were subsequently fired by Paxton in retaliation after accusing him of illegal acts.
In February, the whistleblowers settled the lawsuit for $3.3 million and a public apology from Paxton for calling them “rogue employees.” He also acknowledged in a statement that the whistleblowers “acted in a manner that they thought was right.”
In March, the House launched an inquiry into the settlement, which was made prior to approval from the Texas Legislature and obligates taxpayers, not Paxton, to pay the $3.3 million.
Texas lawmakers have since made moves to prevent funding in the 2024-25 biennial budget to pay for the settlement as well as any money previously allocated for the current biennium. The committee also noted on Wednesday that the Legislature authorizing the payout would prevent a trial at which evidence of Paxton’s alleged misdeeds would be presented publicly.
In a statement Thursday, Paxton blamed the inquiry on the “liberal leadership of the House,” headed by Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican.
Paxton has frequently painted Phelan as a wavering Republican, tying him to President Joe Biden and other prominent Democrats. In Thursday’s statement, he said Phelan and “corrupt Politicians in the Texas House" are "actively destroying Texas’s position as the most powerful backstop against the Biden agenda."
“It’s a sad day for Texas as we witness the corrupt political establishment unite in the illegitimate attempt to over throw the will of the people and disenfranchise the voters of our state,” he said.
Chris Hilton, chief of general litigation division at OAG, attempted to register as a resource witness in defense of Paxton.
He was denied but later told reporters that the investigators’ report was “filled with false falsehoods and misrepresentations.”
“This committee — by investigating him, by not allowing us to be heard here today, by never reaching out to us at any time during the investigative process — is trying to thwart the will of the voters,” Hilton said. “(The committee) never reached out to our office to determine whether anything that was contained in that testimony (Wednesday) was remotely true.”
Since being elected to the office in 2015, Paxton has faced several legal battles.
He currently faces criminal securities fraud charges launched in 2015. The case remains ongoing as it has been delayed multiple times through several appeals. He faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted.
The State Bar of Texas also sued Paxton for professional misconduct for attempting to overturn 2020 election results in other states.
In conducting the inquiry, investigators also found that employees in the office who learned about an extramarital affair involving Paxton and informed him that they knew and were concerned about the optics for the office were given raises and promotions, but had their positions changed so they had less access to information.
Paxton is married to state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.
Erin Epley, lead counsel for the investigating committee, told committee members that they also interviewed 15 individuals with direct knowledge of the accusations.
“I will tell you out of the 15 employees, only one did not express grave concerns as to hostility or aggression in regards to their conversations with us, and fears of retaliation,” Epley said.
Paxton was re-elected in 2018 and 2022, and there is no law preventing someone from running for office while under indictment.
Hilton, in defense of Paxton, cited part of Texas law that states that an elected official can only be impeached for conduct occurring since their most recent election. For Paxton, it was November.
The code states “an officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer's election to office.”
The committee will submit the recommendation for impeachment to the House. Should the House concur, the Senate will hold a trial. Removal requires majority vote in the House and two-thirds support in the Senate.
The government code also states that each member of the Senate, including Paxton’s wife, would have to be present to vote on a conviction, but it does not require each member to vote.
The last statewide elected official to be impeached was in 1975, where District Judge O.P. Carrillo was ousted for misconduct. Earlier this month, the committee recommended state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, be impeached for having an affair and providing alcohol to a 19-year-old staffer. Slaton was formally impeached by the House days later, marking the first time a member of the House has been impeached since 1927.
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