Impeachment Vote Set for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton: What to Know
The Republican-dominated Texas House has scheduled a vote on the impeachment of the state’s Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, for Saturday at 1 p.m.
The vote was set to take place just two days after a bipartisan but Republican-led committee of representatives recommended that Mr. Paxton should be impeached for a range of abuses that may have been crimes.
Mr. Paxton denied wrongdoing, as he has done multiple times before. The attorney general has been handling various legal challenges for years, weathering multiple investigations with few political repercussions.
Here’s what to know.
Who is Ken Paxton?
Before he become the attorney general in 2015, Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr. worked as a lawyer and state legislator, serving in both the State House and Senate. His wife, Angela Paxton, became a political force of her own and won a seat in the State Senate in 2018.
As the state’s top law enforcement officer, Mr. Paxton has styled himself as a champion of the social issues that drive Texas conservatives, effectively becoming the state’s chief culture-war litigator. His hard-charging style has led some Republican allies to distance themselves, even as voters have remained loyal.
Mr. Paxton has closely aligned himself with — and been endorsed by — former president Donald J. Trump, and he has used his office to challenge the results of the 2020 election. He has also mounted frequent legal challenges to actions by the Biden administration, and has been at the forefront of Republican-led states’ attempts to challenge the president’s efforts to ease some restrictions on migration on the U.S. southern border.
Voters re-elected Mr. Paxton to a third term by a wide margin in November.
What accusations prompted the House investigation?
In 2020, several senior members of Mr. Paxton’s staff wrote a letter urging an investigation into the actions of their boss. The aides accused Mr. Paxton of using his office to serve the interests of Nate Paul, who was a friend of the attorney general and a political donor.
Mr. Paul, a wealthy real estate investor in Austin, had contacted Mr. Paxton after his home and offices were raided by federal agents in 2019. Mr. Paxton took the unusual step, against his staff’s vociferous objections, of authorizing a state investigation of the F.B.I.’s actions. He appointed an outside lawyer who referred to himself as a special prosecutor to do it, though investigators for the House committee said that he had no prosecutorial experience. F.B.I. officials have not commented on their investigation.
At the time, Mr. Paxton said in a statement that he had “never been motivated by a desire to protect a political donor or to abuse this office, nor will I ever.”
In their 2020 letter, Mr. Paxton’s aides said that he had committed bribery, abuse of office and other “potential criminal offenses.” Four of the aides also brought their concerns to the F.B.I. and Texas Rangers.
According to legal filings in the case, the four aides had also relayed their concerns to the attorney general’s office; several weeks later, they were all fired. The aides filed suit after that, accusing Mr. Paxton of retaliating against them.
As the case proceeded, Mr. Paxton’s office produced a 374-page report that concluded, “A.G. Paxton committed no crime.” He has also challenged the suit, but a Texas court of appeals has ruled against him. In February, Mr. Paxton agreed to pay $3.3 million in a settlement with the four former senior aides.
How did that lead to the possibility of impeachment?
Questions over how to pay the settlement prompted more investigation into the 2020 allegations.
Mr. Paxton asked the Texas Legislature for the funds to pay the $3.3 million. Dade Phelan, the Republican House speaker, who is seen as a traditional conservative, did not support that use of state money. A House investigation into the allegations was begun in order to gather information about the funding request, Mr. Phelan’s spokeswoman said.
Many of the investigators’ findings about Mr. Paxton were already known publicly, from the allegations made in the aides’ lawsuit. But the House committee vote on Thursday rendered the first official judgment on those allegations: They were, legislators said, enough to begin the process of removing Mr. Paxton from office.
What do the articles of impeachment say?
The committee filed 20 articles of impeachment against Mr. Paxton on Thursday. As they were being handed out around the House chamber, Andrew Murr, the chairman of the committee and a Republican, said that they described “grave offenses.”
The articles charge Mr. Paxton with a litany of abuses including taking bribes, disregarding his official duty, obstructing justice in a separate securities fraud case pending against him, making false statements on official documents and reports, and abusing the public trust.
Many of the charges related to the various ways that Mr. Paxton had used his office to benefit Mr. Paul, the committee said, and then fire those in the office who spoke up against his actions.
The articles also accuse Mr. Paxton of benefiting “from Nate Paul’s employment of a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair,” and of intervening in a lawsuit filed against Mr. Paul’s companies by the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation, an Austin nonprofit group.
What other legal issues are confronting Mr. Paxton?
A federal investigation, opened as a result of the aides’ complaints about corruption and retaliation, has not yet resulted in any charges.
But Mr. Paxton has been under criminal indictment for most of his tenure as the state’s attorney general.
In 2015, his first year in that office, Mr. Paxton was charged with felonies related to securities fraud and booked in a county jail outside Dallas. The charges stemmed from accusations that Mr. Paxton had misled investors and clients — for example, by failing to tell investors that he would make a commission on their investment — while doing securities work in the years before he became attorney general.
He has denied wrongdoing in the case, which has yet to go to trial.
This week’s articles of impeachment accused the attorney general of obstruction of justice in that case, alleging that a lawsuit, which was filed by a donor to Mr. Paxton’s campaign, effectively delayed the trial.
What happens next?
The chairman of the committee investigating Mr. Paxton said he intended to introduce the impeachment resolution for a House vote on Saturday at 1 p.m.
An impeachment would mean that Mr. Paxton would be temporarily removed from office pending a trial on the charges in the State Senate, where some of his closest allies, including his wife, would serve as jurors. The Senate proceedings could well be delayed until after the regular legislative session, which ends on Monday. The Senate could reconvene to hold the trial afterward, though the timing remains highly uncertain.
A lawyer from Mr. Paxton’s office, Christopher Hilton, has said that the committee’s process in issuing the articles of impeachment had been “completely lacking,” and that the issues raised had been fully aired during Mr. Paxton’s successful re-election campaign last year.
In what appeared to be a preview of a possible legal challenge to the proceedings, Mr. Hilton also said that Texas law allowed impeachment only for conduct since the preceding election. Most of the allegations in the articles of impeachment involve conduct that occurred before then.
Reporting was contributed by Manny Fernandez, Miriam Jordan, Edgar Sandoval and Rick Rojas.