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Why Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is facing impeachment and what’s next

The Texas House plans to vote on impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton at 1 p.m. Saturday, according to A memo released Friday by the office of House Speaker Dade Phelan.

The vote could lead to a trial in the state Senate and potentially the ousting of Paxton, one of the fiercest opponents of the Biden administration and an architect of Texas’ conservative policies on cultural issues embraced by d other red states.

A Republican-led House investigative committee this week unanimously recommended impeaching Paxton on 20 items, including bribery, unfitness for office and breach of public trust. The committee said it began investigating Paxton in March, after he sought $3.3 million in public funds to end a lawsuit by former staffers who accused him of reprisals.

The memo released by Phelan and authored by the House committee that investigated Paxton, noted that “we cannot overstate the fact that, without Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement regarding his misconduct, Paxton would not face impeachment. by the house.

Paxton dismissed the House inquiry as a political attack on Phelan, accused him of presiding over the House while drunk last week and called for Phelan’s resignation this week. Phelan’s office dismissed the charges as Paxton tried to “save face”.

“This is a sad day for Texas as we see the corrupt political establishment unite in this illegitimate attempt to subvert the will of the people and rob voters of our state,” Paxton said in a statement late Thursday. .

He condemned the House committee’s findings as “hearsay and gossip, repeating claims long since refuted” and insisted that the Republicans pushing them were taking the side of the Democrats rather than theirs. “The RINOs in the Texas Legislature are now on the same side as Joe Biden,” he said.

The committee, which included three Republicans and two Democrats, wielded power rarely used in Texas. Only two officials in Texas’ nearly 200-year history have been impeached: the governor in 1917 and a district judge in 1975, said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

If Paxton is impeached by the House, he would be immediately suspended from office, with his fate determined in a trial in the state Senate. Gov. Greg Abbott, another Republican who has worked closely with Paxton, could name a temporary replacement. By law, Abbott does not have the power to pardon Paxton if he is impeached. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

The messy public battle to impeach Paxton exposed a schism in the state’s normally disciplined GOP, which has total control over the levers of power in the state.

Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi called the impeachment effort a “sham” and lambasted Phelan for attacking Paxton after his recent re-election and “trying to overturn the election results.”

“The impeachment case against the attorney general is just the latest front in the Texas House’s war against Republicans to stop the conservative leadership of our state,” Rinaldi said. said in a statement on Fridayaccusing Phelan of “empowering Democrats, allowing them to hold leadership positions and control the agenda.”

Highlighting Paxton’s role as a national bulwark against the Biden administration and for former President Trump, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted at Paxton’s defense on Friday.

“What the Texas State House RINOs are trying to do to America’s First Patriot Ken Paxton is a disgrace,” he tweeted. “MAGA stands with @KenPaxtonTX against this RINO/Dem witch hunt!!!” he wrote.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s former White House aide retweeted Rinaldi’s statement Friday.

“We all need to stick together @KenPaxtonTX — no AG has fought harder against Biden’s lawless assault on our constitution,” he wrote. Thursday he tweeted that Paxton was a “warrior for America” ​​and urged supporters to “stand with Ken.”

The 149-member House includes 64 Democrats and 85 Republicans. It was unclear whether Phelan could muster the necessary support from a dozen other Republicans to achieve the majority needed for impeachment. Paxton served in the House for five terms before becoming a state senator.

Two members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus thursday questioned Phelan to find out if they would receive more evidence on the articles of impeachment filed against Paxton and question the witnesses.

Phelan said they will not be able to interview witnesses and “will have access to evidence presented to the committee.” He declined to say when he would allow a vote and referred further questions to Rep. Andrew Murr (R) who chaired the inquiry committee. Murr did not return calls on Friday, and Phelan’s office declined to comment.

“Phelan has enough supporters who, combined with the Democrats, have at least the minimum numbers to pass articles of impeachment,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “The Senate is another story. We don’t really know what’s going to happen there. lieutenant governor [Dan] Patrick is a great ally of Mr. Paxton.

Permanent withdrawal would require a two-thirds vote of the Texas Senate, which includes 19 Republicans and a dozen Democrats. Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a eligible Republican senator. If the Senate votes for impeachment, Paxton would be permanently removed from office.

Under Texas law, Patrick would preside over the Senate trial but not vote. The Senate would schedule the trial, suspending or resuming it after the end of the legislative session on Monday. During the trial, the Senate may request documents, witnesses, and testimony, meet privately to deliberate, and exercise “any other powers necessary,” in accordance with state law.

Patrick did not respond to requests for comment or publicly speak out in favor of Paxton this week.

“I can’t say a word about that,” Patrick said of Paxton’s potential impeachment during an interview with a Dallas TV station Thursday night, noting that he wouldn’t vote and that “the members will do their duty”.

Since the prospect of Paxton’s impeachment emerged on Wednesday, none of the other leading Texas Republicans have come out in favor from him.

“No Republican wants to be on an island supporting impeachment,” Jones said. “But if the tide goes the other way, nobody wants to support someone who doesn’t have the confidence of other Republicans.”

Paxton has been a powerful player in the party’s conservative wing, a staunch Trump ally selected to help lead Trump’s 2024 state campaign. Paxton and his wife appeared at the pro-Trump rally in Washington on January 6 that preceded the insurrection in the United States. Capitol. He led a failed bid to void the 2020 presidential election, joining other GOP attorneys general in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate Biden’s swing state victories.

Paxton was simultaneously under investigation by the FBI on charges that he used his office to help a donor. He was indicted separately on federal securities fraud charges in 2015, but has yet to stand trial. Scandals and criminal investigations have increasingly made him “an embarrassment” to Abbott, Jones said. But voters continued to back him at the polls and in the polls: Jones said a poll of Republican voters earlier this month found 68% had a favorable opinion of Paxton.

The Texas constitution does not specify what constitutes impeachable offenses, but it does mention impeachment in relation to criminal offenses. By law, a Texas official cannot be removed from office for an act committed before his election, a provision which Paxton and his defenders have seized upon, since he was just reelected last year, well after charges were brought against him.

The impeachment articles released by the Inquiry Committee largely stem from Paxton’s relationship years ago with one of his wealthy donors. They deal heavily with Paxton’s alleged efforts over the years to shield the donor from an FBI investigation and his attempts to thwart whistleblower complaints filed by his own staff.

“It’s not a partisan issue. This level of public corruption should be fought by everyone,” said Democratic Rep. Gene Wu.

Wu said he planned to vote for impeachment and expected his fellow Democrats and a significant number of Republicans to do so as well — more than the House majority, he said. Wu said the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s silence “should raise red flags” that Paxton’s support had waned.

He said Paxton’s impeachment was “long overdue”.

“It’s about public trust. It’s about protecting our own democracy,” Wu said. Republic: I am convinced that there are enough people here who will do the right thing.


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