Texas’s Republican-led house of representatives launched historic impeachment proceedings against attorney general Ken Paxton on Saturday as the scandal-plagued lawyer called on supporters to protest a vote that could lead to his ouster and Donald Trump came to his defense.
The house convened on Saturday afternoon to debate whether to impeach and suspend Paxton from office over allegations of bribery, abuse of public trust and that he is unfit for office. They’re just some of the accusations that have trailed Texas’s top lawyer for most of his three terms.
In opening statements, the state congressman Charlie Geren, a member of the committee that investigated Paxton, said the attorney general had called lawmakers and threatened them with political “consequences”.
As the charges against Paxton were read, some lawmakers shook their heads. Impeachment is expected to be debated for four hours, followed by closing remarks and the vote.
The hearing could result in a remarkably sudden downfall for one of the Republican party’s most prominent legal combatants, who in 2020 asked the US supreme court to overturn president Joe Biden’s electoral defeat of Donald Trump. Only two officials in Texas’s nearly 200-year history have been impeached.
Paxton, 60, has called the impeachment proceedings “political theater” and on Friday, he asked supporters “to peacefully come let their voices be heard at the Capitol tomorrow”.
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, though he has yet to stand trial.
If impeached, Paxton would be removed from office pending a senate trial, and it would fall to the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, to appoint an interim replacement. Final removal would require a two-thirds vote in the senate, where Paxton’s wife’s, Angela, is a member.
To Paxton’s detractors, the rebuke was years overdue.
In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law, and a year later he was indicted on securities fraud charges in his hometown near Dallas, accused of defrauding investors in a tech startup. He pleaded not guilty to two felony counts carrying a potential sentence of five to 99 years.
He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was under investigation by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton later hired to a high-ranking job but was soon fired after displaying child pornography in a meeting. In 2020, Paxton intervened in a Colorado mountain community where a Texas donor and college classmate faced removal from his lakeside home under coronavirus orders.
But what ultimately unleashed the impeachment push was Paxton’s relationship with the Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
In 2020, eight top aides told the FBI they were concerned Paxton was misusing his office to help Paul over the developer’s unproven claims that an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200m of his properties was afoot. The FBI searched Paul’s home in 2019, but he has not been charged and denies wrongdoing. Paxton also told staff members he had an affair with a woman who, it later emerged, worked for Paul.
The impeachment accuses Paxton of attempting to interfere in foreclosure lawsuits and issuing legal opinions to benefit Paul. Its bribery charges allege that Paul employed the woman with whom Paxton had an affair in exchange for legal help and that he paid for expensive renovations to the attorney general’s home.
A senior lawyer for Paxton’s office, Chris Hilton, said on Friday that the attorney general paid for all repairs and renovations.
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