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Ken Paxton updates: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remains silent on potential AG impeachment

By Texas Tribune Staff, The Texas Tribune

Ken Paxton updates: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remains silent on potential AG impeachment” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remains silent on AG Ken Paxton debacle

Gov. Greg Abbott is staying silent on the potential impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Texas House on Saturday.

More than 24 hours after a House committee unanimously recommended impeachment, Abbott’s office has not responded to requests for comment on the situation. The full House intends to start debating the impeachment resolution at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Abbott could soon have a major choice to make. If the House votes to impeach, then Paxton would be immediately suspended from office, giving Abbott the option to appoint someone to temporarily fill the vacancy.

Abbott himself is a former attorney general, preceding Paxton in the seat. He has largely avoided extensively commenting on Paxton’s legal problems over the years.

The governor never took sides in Paxton’s hotly contested Republican primary last year. But going into the contest, he said Paxton was doing a “very effective job” as attorney general.

Patrick Svitek

Ken Paxton, in live statement, decries House impeachment vote

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in a televised statement Friday afternoon, blasted his fellow Republicans in the state House who are set to hold a historic impeachment vote Saturday over several allegations of wrongdoing and criminal conduct.

“By proceeding with this illegal impeachment scheme to overturn a decision made by Texas voters just a few short months ago, the corrupt politicians in the Texas House are demonstrating that blind loyalty to Speaker Dade Phelan is more important than upholding their oath of office,” he said Friday.

Paxton also called on his supporters to “peacefully” voice their opinions at the Capitol this weekend.

On Thursday, the Texas House committee issued 20 articles of impeachment accusing him of bribery, disregard of official duty, obstruction of justice, and misuse of official powers.

The Republican-led House General Investigating Committee went public with its monthslong investigation into the attorney general earlier this week. It had authorized the probe after Paxton asked the Legislature to use taxpayer money to pay the $3.3 million lawsuit settlement between him and four of his former deputies, who said they were improperly fired after telling federal and state investigators they believed Paxton had accepted bribes and engaged in other misconduct.

The panel’s findings laid out allegations of a bigger pattern of misconduct and questionable actions by the attorney general, who has faced criminal investigations and legal battles for years.

Chris Hilton, chief of general litigation for the attorney general’s office, criticized the committee as lacking transparency and not caring about Paxton’s right to due process. On Thursday, he demanded that the committee let him testify on behalf of his office but was denied by Chair Andrew Murr, R-Junction.

“If they cared about truth, or about fairness or about transparency, they would have run a transparent investigation and invited us to participate,” he said Friday. “Instead, they threw us out of the committee hearing yesterday when we showed up with documents and reports that would disprove the spurious allegations. They didn’t even want to hear our side of the story.”

Meanwhile, Paxton has received public support from his state party chair and several prominent national Republicans, who have framed the impeachment proceeding as a “witch hunt” led by Democrats and those they have deemed “Republican in name only.”

“I’m grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve received from so many Texans who understand this process is unjust and unethical,” he said.

Alex Nguyen

Replay: Ken Paxton’s statement on eve of impeachment vote

Attorney General Ken Paxton — facing a historic impeachment hearing in the Texas House Saturday — hosted a news conference at 4 p.m. Friday.

Watch here via KXAN:

Attorney General Ken Paxton holds a press conference Friday afternoon. Credit: KXAN

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Texas House will debate impeachment at 1 p.m. Saturday

The Texas House intends to take up a resolution to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton at 1 p.m. Saturday, according to a memo from the House General Investigating Committee.

Citing Paxton’s “long-standing pattern of abuse of office and public trust,” the memo said it was imperative for the House to proceed with impeachment to prevent Paxton from using his office’s “significant powers” to further obstruct and delay justice.

The committee proposed allocating four hours of debate, evenly divided between supporters and opponents of impeachment, with 40 minutes for opening arguments by committee members and 20 minutes for closing statements. A simple majority is needed to send the matter to a trial before the Texas Senate. If the House votes to impeach Paxton, the memo said, the House would conduct the trial in the Senate through a group of House members called “managers.”

The committee stressed that Paxton’s request earlier this year for the Legislature to pay $3.3 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit led to its investigation and ultimately the articles of impeachment. The memo also said impeachment is not a criminal process and its primary purpose is to “protect the state, not to punish the offender.”

The memo also addressed arguments by lawyers with the attorney general’s office who called the committee investigation illegal because impeachment proceedings could not be initiated against Paxton for crimes alleged to have occurred before his last election in 2022. The memo said the so-called “forgiveness doctrine” did not apply in Paxton’s case. The committee cited the most famous impeachment case in Texas history to support its argument, noting that in 1917, Gov. James Ferguson was impeached on four articles that related to his conduct before and during the 1916 election. The Senate convicted Ferguson on those counts.

James Barragán

Gov’t watchdog group calls for Angela Paxton to recuse herself from possible trial

A left-leaning government watchdog group has called for Sen. Angela Paxton to recuse herself from any proceedings regarding her husband’s impeachment in the Senate.

Attorney General Ken Paxton faces 20 counts in an impeachment hearing in the state House on Saturday. The Senate, which Sen. Paxton joined in 2018, would then take up the matter if the resolution is approved.

The group, Public Citizen, cites the Texas Constitution, which says members with “a personal or private interest in any measure or bill, proposed or pending before the Legislature, shall disclose the fact…and shall not vote thereon.”

But a separate statute says “each member of the senate shall be in attendance” during impeachments. The Republican senator from McKinney has not previously recused herself from matters involving the attorney general’s office, even going so far as to file legislation that would have given her husband’s office power to issue exemptions from securities regulations.

Angela Paxton is connected to some of the allegations her husband faces: one of the articles of impeachment is related to granite countertops to renovate the Paxton’s house, and another is connected to an alleged romantic affair by Attorney General Paxton.

“There is no court in the country that would allow a spouse to sit in judgment of the defendant or have contact with the jurors,” said Adrian Shelley, the Texas director of Public Citizen, in a statement. “Sen. Paxton is also uniquely positioned to influence the impeachment process and her colleagues’ votes. Sen. Paxton has a moral obligation to the people of Texas to avoid interacting with her colleagues in the Senate on this issue, as do her fellow senators.”

— Eleanor Klibanoff

Few supporters rally for Paxton at state House on eve of impeachment hearing

Kaci Sisk was sitting in the House gallery Friday in support of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The president of the Bulverde Spring Branch Conservative Republicans drove two hours to Austin this morning from Bulverde, a small town north of San Antonio, in the chance that the House would vote to impeach the attorney general. The debate will be Saturday.

“Paxton is the most effective attorney general this state has ever had,” said the conservative PAC president.

“Amen,” said Rebecca Broughton, who was sitting in a row behind Sisk.

Sisk said the impeachment was a baseless, retaliatory move against Paxton for calling on House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign earlier this week after a video of Phelan slurring his words while managing the House floor circulated online. Paxton, and others, suggested Phelan was drunk. Sisk lumped Phelan supporters and those who support Paxton’s impeachment together with the Democrats.

In reality, the Republican-led House committee that is moving forward with impeachment hearings began investigating Paxton months ago.

“Those who vote for impeachment are effectively siding with the Biden administration and corrupt DAs in the state,” Sisk said.

Wearing Texas state flag earrings and a jean jacket, Broughton agreed with everything Sisk said. Broughton, who is the precinct chair and treasurer for the Guadalupe County Republican Party, noted how every Republican she’s spoken with is in lockstep behind Paxton. The support from the Republican base is strong, Sisk said.

“We don’t care that he’s been indicted; we don’t care,” Sisk said. “It’s politically motivated because he is a serious warrior for conservative Texans and for this state.”

Despite Sisk and Broughton’s insistence that the majority of Republicans in the state were behind Paxton, there were few at the Capitol on Friday visibly in support of him. They attributed this to the fact that this sequence of events happened so quickly, and right before a holiday weekend, and therefore many couldn’t make it to the Capitol.

Both women pointed to his decisive victory last November as evidence of Paxton’s popularity. Paxton won reelection by almost 800,000 votes against his Democratic challenger Rochelle Garza. Sisk noted that voting to impeach Paxton would be disenfranchising millions of voters.

“How can they even have the arrogance to want to overturn an election?” Sisk asked.

William Melhado

Texas GOP chair stands by Paxton

Matt Rinaldi, chair of the Republican Party of Texas, publicly supported Ken Paxton on Friday, echoing much of the embattled attorney general’s rhetoric.

Rinaldi also blasted Republican House speaker Dade Phelan for failing to deliver on several GOP priorities and appointing Democrats as committee chairs — a fight that Phelan had with the more conservative wing of his party earlier this session.

“This sham impeachment is the result of the Phelan leadership team empowering Democrats, allowing them to hold leadership positions and letting them control the agenda,” Rinaldi said in a statement Friday.

— Alex Nguyen

Trump’s backers voice support for Paxton

Former President Donald Trump’s allies are coming out in support of Attorney General Ken Paxton, a fellow loyalist who unsuccessfully attempted to challenge the 2020 election results in several states in favor of Trump.

An early backer is former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who tweeted Thursday that he stands with Paxton. More statements of support came Friday, including from Donald Trump Jr. and Kyle Rittenhouse, who gained notoriety for being charged with and then acquitted of fatally shooting two people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Wisconsin.

Those supporting Paxton are generally pushing the baseless rhetoric that the impeachment proceeding is an effort by Democrats and those they have deemed “Republican In Name Only” to undermine a true conservative.

“What the RINOs in the Texas State House are trying to do to America First patriot Ken Paxton is a disgrace,” Donald Trump Jr. said.

— Alex Nguyen

Texas voters split on Paxton’s job performance, recent poll finds

Texas voters are split on Attorney General Ken Paxton’s job performance, according to a survey last month by the University of Texas at Austin.

Nearly 4 out of every 10 voters approve of Paxton’s performance, the poll found. Meanwhile, 35% disapprove. About a quarter of respondents either didn’t know of Paxton or didn’t have an opinion.

Paxton, who is facing an impeachment vote in the Texas House, has since 2014 routinely made headlines for suing former President Barack Obama and the Biden administration.

Party affiliation is a strong predictor for voters’ opinions on Paxton’s performance, with the survey finding that 65% of Republican voters approve of the job he is doing and 62% of Democratic voters disapproving of his job performance. Meanwhile, 44% of unaffiliated voters reject the job the attorney general has done and 19% of them approve of it.

The April survey sampled 1,200 registered Texas voters and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83%.

— Alex Nguyen

Accusations include bribery, obstruction of justice and dereliction of official duty

Attorney General Ken Paxton faces 20 charges in the Texas House — a range of criminal acts that include disregard of official duty, misapplication of public resources and obstruction of justice.

Collectively, the impeachment articles accuse the attorney general, reelected last year by voters who shrugged off his scandals, of a yearslong pattern of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking.

Paxton has faced allegations of wrongdoing for years, but Texas Republicans have largely avoided taking any official action against him. Shortly after first taking office, he was indicted on state securities fraud charges, a criminal case he continues fighting. In 2020, senior officials in his office asked the FBI to investigate allegations that he had abused his authority to help a wealthy friend and donor. Those claims led to a whistleblower lawsuit alleging Paxton retaliated against his former deputies.

For a full list of the impeachment charges, click here.

— Chuck Lindell, James Barragán and Patrick Svitek

Here’s how the impeachment process works

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Texas House held impeachment proceedings for a state official. The year was 1975 and District Judge O.P. Carrillo of Duval County was successfully impeached for misuse of public funds, presiding over cases that involved financial partners and a number of other infractions.

For Texans who aren’t familiar with that case, here’s how impeachment proceedings work in Texas: Impeaching an official requires a simple majority vote of the House. If that happens, the Texas Senate can carry out a trial, in which senators take an oath to be impartial. Two-thirds of the senators present must vote to convict an impeached state leader, per state law. If that happens, the official is then permanently removed from office.

For a more detailed version — including a visual flow chart — of what happens, click here.

— María Méndez and Alex Ford

Despite scandals, voters have repeatedly backed Paxton

Since it became clear the Texas House would move forward with impeachment proceedings, Ken Paxton’s supporters have suggested that state lawmakers were overturning the will of the voters. And a top aide in the attorney general’s office said Paxton can’t be impeached for acts that occurred before his latest reelection.

Paxton, who has been dogged with scandal for years, easily beat primary opponent George P. Bush last year and went to win reelection against Democratic civil rights lawyer Rochelle Garza.

It was not a foregone conclusion. Political observers considered Paxton the weakest of all GOP incumbents running for reelection in 2022. Here’s what the Tribune wrote on election night:

“The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Paxton said in his victory speech from Collin County.

Surrounded that night by supporters, members of the attorney general’s office and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, Paxton said he would continue to fight the federal government’s “overreach” into state affairs. Paxton has been a leader in challenging policies implemented by Democratic presidents on immigration, expansion of LGBTQ rights and COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

“Just because we won tonight, the fight is not over,” he said. “They’re going to continue to come after me, they’re going to continue to come after Texas. They’re going to continue to come after Republicans around the country and we cannot let them win.”

— Nic Garcia

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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