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Speaker Dade Phelan forcefully defends Ken Paxton impeachment in campaign ad

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Speaker Dade Phelan forcefully defends Ken Paxton impeachment in campaign ad” 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.

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House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, is using a new ad to tackle head-on a major issue in his primary: Ken Paxton’s impeachment.

In the direct-to-camera spot, Phelan outlines the alleged misdeeds that led to Paxton’s impeachment last year — including an extramarital affair — and says “Vengeful Paxton is the reason” why Donald Trump recently endorsed Phelan’s primary challenger.

“If Paxton will break an oath to his wife and God, why would he tell Trump — or you — the truth?” Phelan says in conclusion.

The Phelan-led House impeached Paxton in May last year, accusing him of abusing his office to help a wealthy friend and donor, Nate Paul. The Texas Senate held a trial in September and acquitted Paxton, ratcheting up a Republican civil war where Paxton is now on a warpath to unseat the House Republicans who voted to impeach him. Sixty of the chamber’s 85 Republicans voted in favor of impeachment.

Paxton has made Phelan his No. 1 target and leveraged his close relationship with Trump to target the speaker in his reelection bid. Trump endorsed Phelan’s opponent, David Covey, last week, citing the “Absolute Embarrassment” of Paxton’s impeachment.

Paxton was already starring in a TV ad backing Covey and invoking Trump’s previous criticism of Phelan.

The new Phelan commercial is running on TV and digital platforms in Phelan’s Southeast Texas district, according to his campaign.

Paxton’s campaign argued that the ad showed Phelan’s reelection campaign was floundering.

“I didn’t know Ken Paxton was on the ballot in HD-21,” Paxton spokesperson Nick Maddux said in a statement. “It’s a bizarre and desperate ad. When you are running ads like this two weeks before early vote, it’s a clear sign the Speaker’s reelection is in trouble.”

The ad opens with Phelan blunting stating that Paxton “had an affair with a Senate staffer,” a reference to the extramarital affair that came up at the impeachment trial. A former chief of staff to the attorney general testified that he confessed to staff he had cheated on his wife — state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney — and that she warned him it could make him vulnerable to bribery. One of the articles of impeachment accused Paxton of bribery because he “benefited from Nate Paul’s employment of a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.” The Senate voted along party lines to acquit Paxton of that allegation.

Paxton’s legal team strenuously downplayed the relevance of the affair.

“Imagine if we impeached everybody here in Austin that had had an affair,” Paxton’s lead attorney, Tony Buzbee, said during the trial. “We’d be impeaching for the next 100 years, wouldn’t we?”

Since his acquittal, Paxton has been fighting to end a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2020 by former top deputies whose claims factored heavily into the impeachment. Last month, he tried a new tactic to wind down the case: announcing he would not contest the facts and accept any judgment.

Phelan raises that in the ad, saying most House Republicans voted to impeach Paxton and he “just admitted to the charges, no longer contesting the lawsuit.”

Paxton’s office has insisted that his latest legal maneuver does not mean he accepts guilt.

The fate of the whistleblower case is currently in the hands of the Texas Supreme Court.

Disclosure: Tony Buzbee 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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