Texas House committee recommends impeaching Paxton after probe
A Republican-led Texas House committee unanimously recommended that Attorney General Paxton be impeached Thursday, one day after public testimony alleging a yearslong pattern of misconduct and abuse of power.
The latest: Lawmakers filed 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton Thursday evening.
Why it matters: Only two Texas officials have been impeached — a governor in 1917 and a district judge in 1975, per the Texas Tribune.
- Paxton, a Republican, has been re-elected twice despite being under indictment on felony securities fraud charges. He's also under FBI investigation into whistleblowers' bribery claims against him.
Of note: Paxton has denied all wrongdoing, though earlier this year he agreed to a $3.3 million settlement with four whistleblowers, former lieutenants in his office.
- Paxton asked the Legislature to use taxpayer money to cover the settlement.
The big picture: Investigators for the House committee testified that Paxton committed a crime by retaliating against employees who reported violations of the law "in good faith."
- Committee chair Rep. Andrew Murr, a Republican from Junction, pointed out that using taxpayer funds to pay the settlement — which the Legislature would need to authorize — would help Paxton avoid a trial, where evidence of his behavior would be on public display.
- "It curls my mustache," Murr said during the hearing.
Catch up fast: In 2020, several of Paxton's top aides alleged he illegally used his office to benefit Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who donated $25,000 to Paxton's 2018 campaign, per the Associated Press.
- Within months, those aides were either fired or resigned.
Details: Committee investigators testified about alleged favors Paxton did for Paul, including pressuring his staff to get involved in a records fight that would benefit Paul in a lawsuit involving an Austin nonprofit.
- Investigators allege that in exchange for these favors, Paul helped with a renovation of Paxton's Austin home and employed a woman with whom Paxton was allegedly in a relationship.
- Erin Epley, lead counsel for the investigating committee, said that Paxton's wife, Republican state Sen. Angela Paxton from McKinney, learned of the alleged affair in 2019, leading to the couple's brief separation.
The other side: During this week's hearing, Paxton called in to conservative radio host Mark Davis' show to criticize the investigation, per the Texas Tribune.
- Paxton also released a statement calling the testimony "false," and accusing Texas House leadership of demonstrating "nothing but contempt for the traditional values of conservative Texans."
The intrigue: Epley used to work for Ryan Patrick, a Donald Trump-appointed U.S. attorney who's also Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's son.
Between the lines: Hours before Wednesday's hearing, Paxton called on House speaker Dade Phelan, also a Republican, to resign, accusing him of being drunk on the House floor.
- Phelan's office called it a ploy and "a last ditch effort to save face," per the Tribune.
What they're saying: "This is as detrimental and important a scandal as we've seen in Texas political history," Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who is working on a book on Texas political scandals, told the New York Times.
- "Not just because of what happened, but because of how long it’s been going on and how Paxton has been able to survive it."
What we're watching: The legislative session ends Monday, but the Legislature can still meet for a special session to consider impeachment — with Gov. Greg Abbott's permission, plus the agreement of the House speaker and at least 50 House members, per the Tribune.
- The full House could vote on the matter as soon as Friday, per AP.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say that Erin Epley, lead counsel for the investigating committee, once worked for former U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick. Patrick was not a part of the investigating team.
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