Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks outside in Washington, DC.on U.S. Supreme Court on November 01, 2021. Credit - Drew Angerer—Getty Images
Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was impeached from the Texas House on Saturday, following a House committee’s months-long investigation into his misconduct.
More than half of House Republicans voted to impeach Paxton in a 121 to 23 vote, going against the wishes of leading conservative figures such as former president Donald Trump. Paxton is now suspended from office and will face a trial before the State Senate, where he could be permanently removed from his position and barred from holding elected office in the state of Texas.
On Thursday, the bipartisan, but Republican-led General Investigating Committee unanimously recommended that Paxton be impeached and removed from office, over allegations of bribery, obstruction of justice and other abuses throughout his years in office. House Republicans have brought forth 20 articles of impeachment in total.
Paxton, 60, referred to the impeachment vote as “illegal, unethical, and profoundly unjust,” saying that he hoped for a quick resolution in the Senate, where he has several allies, including his wife, Angela Paxton. The case marks the first impeachment hearing of a state official in the House in almost 50 years.
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Here’s what to know:
Who is Paxton?
Paxton, who has been a driving force behind Texas’s culture wars, was first elected to office as a House representative in 2002, where he went on to spend 12 years in the legislature. After Texas Governor Greg Abott vacated his role as the state’s attorney general in 2014, Paxton ran for the open position, winning by a landslide.
Over the years, Paxton has strongly allied himself with hard-line conservatives. He was involved in Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 presidential election results, as well as other legal challenges against the Biden administration and efforts to loosen migration and border restrictions.
Paxton was re-elected for a third term in November by a sizable majority. He has spent most of his tenure as attorney general under investigation. His first year on the job in 2015, he received felony charges over securities fraud for allegedly misleading investors.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleges that he raised over $800,000 by selling shares from software company Servergy to clients, without disclosing to them that he was receiving additional stock shares from the company in return. Paxton denied wrongdoing, claiming that he received the stocks as a gift, and has yet to go to trial over the charges.
Why was Paxton impeached?
Paxton’s impeachment mainly centers around Paxton illegally using his political power to benefit his friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who donated $25,000 to Paxton’s 2018 campaign. Paul allegedly received favorable assistance or access to the attorney general’s office after employing a woman Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair with—a form of bribery. Paul denies that he hired the woman to benefit Paxton.
Paxton also authorized an investigation into the 2019 F.B.I raid of Paul’s property. At the time, Paxton said, he wasn’t motivated to “protect a political donor or to abuse this office, nor will I ever.”
Investigations into Paxton’s actions were spurred by an October 2020 letter from several of Paxton’s top aides, accusing the attorney general of bribery and abuse of office.
Four aides were fired in the fall of 2020 after the letter’s release, leading them to file a lawsuit accusing Paxton of retaliation. He challenged the suit, but after a Texas appeals court ruled against him, he agreed to pay $3.3 million in settlement to the aides in February 2023.
Paxton asked the state legislature for funding to pay the multi-million dollar settlement, but House Speaker Dade Phelan opposed the use of taxpayer money for it. The House opened an investigation into the allegations against Paxton to gather intel over his funding request, according to Phelan’s office. A House committee voted Thursday to make the first judgment over the allegations. Legislators said there was enough evidence against Paxton to start the process of removing him from office.
What the impeachment means
The vote against Paxton is evidence of rising tension within the Texas Republican party, which has controlled both the House and the Senate since 2003, according to the Texas Tribune.
Some, like House Rep. John Smithee saw impeachment proceedings against Paxton as a process that lacked serious evidence. “Today it could be General Paxton, and tomorrow it could be you,” Smithee said. Others, such as Rep. Andrew Murr (who led the committee investigation against Paxton), noted that they had to abide by notions of “integrity and honesty” in their vote.
Because of the impeachment vote, Paxton is temporarily absolved from his office. Gov. Abbott has the authority to appoint an interim attorney general, though if he does not do so, the duties of the attorney general will fall to the next most senior official, the New York Times reports.
The power to permanently remove Paxton for office lies in the hands of the State Senate, where two-thirds of legislators would need to vote in favor for removal. If they fail to reach that margin, Paxton would immediately resume his position.
The date for the impeachment trial will be set by Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, who has not yet revealed when the trial will happen.