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Texas House Votes to Impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
By Eric Harvey, J.D. on June 09, 2023

The Lone Star State has been making lots of legal headlines recently, and with them, the state's Attorney General Ken Paxton. We've covered Paxton's legal battle with Facebook for biometric privacy laws, and his policies defending Texas's anti-abortion laws. The conservative politician has garnered a national reputation as an ally of former President Trump and a thorn in the side of President Joe Biden. But it seems that the AG may not be making legal decisions for the state much longer.

The Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last Saturday to impeach Paxton and refer him to the Texas Senate for trial on charges of obstruction, corruption, abuse of office, and bribery. The impeachment vote suspends Paxton from office until the Texas Senate holds its trial, which is expected to take place in August. Paxton has denied the charges and posted on Twitter that the proceedings were "illegal, unethical, and profoundly unjust."

Although impeachment proceedings may look like judicial processes, in reality they are all about the politics. With Trump's two impeachments, it was Republicans versus Democrats. Although the Democrat-held House voted to impeach, the split Senate refused to convict. In contrast, here Paxton is fighting his own party—the GOP. Republicans hold majorities in both the Texas House and Senate. Yet the vote in favor of impeachment was a landslide 121–23, with two members abstaining.

What's going on, you may ask? Well, the charges against Paxton are serious. And we may be seeing an echo of the national split in the Republican party between the traditional right and Trump supporters—a split that will play itself out in the upcoming Republican presidential primary.

Let's break it down.

Impeachment Proceedings

On May 25, the Texas House General Investigating Committee tendered its vote in favor of impeachment. The five-member committee unanimously recommended that Paxton be impeached. In accordance with impeachment procedure, he has been temporarily removed from office. Texas State Senate must now bring its own trial, in which it will also consider the 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton.

The day after the Committee voted, Paxton called upon his supporters to rally in his defense at the State Capitol. At a press conference on May 26, he urged citizens to exercise their right to petition their government" by protesting the Committee's recommendations outside the state capitol in Austin.

On June 3, as supporters assembled outside the Capitol Building, Texas' House handed down its decision. A whopping 121 of the 149 members voted to impeach. Paxton condemned the outcome of the proceedings in the House as "illegal, unjust, and profoundly unjust." But he expressed some optimism as well. "I look forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate, where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just," he said, in the wake of the House majority vote to remove him from office.

The Texas State Senate returned from recess Sunday afternoon. On Monday, the House named 12 members of the Senate that will lead the prosecution. The group is comprised of seven Republican and five Democratic Senators. The Senate also created a seven-member committee that will lay out the rules for the trial against Paxton. Those rules will not become public until June 20. Senators announced that the trial will begin no later than August 28. Notably, the AG's wife, Angela Paxton, is a state senator.

Charges Against Paxton

In the proceedings, Paxton has faced 20 charges. In the House, he stood accused of disregard of official duty, misapplication of public resources, constitutional bribery, obstruction of justice, false statements in official records, conspiracy, attempted conspiracy, misappropriation of public resources, dereliction of duty, unfitness for office, and abuse of public trust. Yes, that is a doozy. 

In part, these charges stem from accusations that Paxton once persuaded investors to buy stock in a tech company without also disclosing that any of the recommended stock purchases would result in compensation for him. A year after he took office, he was found guilty of felony fraud charges in connection with this stock sales scheme, a ruling that was upheld on appeal. The House further found that Paxton had attempted to cover up his involvement in the scheme.

At the same time, Paxton also been the subject of an investigation by the FBI, after whistleblowers revealed he engaged in acts of bribery. His former aides leaked information to the public about how the politician had intervened in a federal investigation of one of his political donors, Nate Paul, a real estate mogul in Austin. In exchange for the intervention, Paul renovated Paxton's home. As a further fun fact, Paul hired a woman with whom Paxton was alleged to have an affair. The proceedings found that Paxton had conducted a bogus investigation into the whistleblowers that outed him for bribing Paul.

What to Expect

Paxton has denied any wrongdoing and maintains his innocence on all charges, often referring to the proceedings as "political theatre." He himself has sued the Biden administration 50 times on claims that its policies on issues like immigration and gun control are "unlawful" and "tyrannical."

A long-term and conservative member of the House, John Smithee, voiced opposition to the decision to impeach Paxton, while maintaining he wasn't defending Paxton. Smithee indicated evidence used in the proceeding was "hearsay within hearsay within hearsay."

Nonetheless, Paxton may soon become the third person in the history of Texas to be impeached. Given his track record in lawsuits concerning his abuses of power and the myriad indications of his criminality, the prospects of the Senate's impeachment trial don't look good for him, and he may soon be on the receiving end of bitter justice.

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