DemDaily: Impeached! Texas AG Goes Down

May 31, 2023

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) was impeached Saturday on 20 articles ranging from bribery and corruption to obstruction of justice and abuse of public trust.

The Texas House of Representatives, including 60 members of Paxton's own party, voted 121-23, with two members voting "present" and three absent, to impeach the scandal-ridden attorney general -- setting up a trial before the State Senate by the end of August.

It is the latest in a series of legal entanglements and investigations involving the Texas lawmaker.

In the southern border state that delivered a 52.06% to 46.48% victory for Donald Trump over Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, the Texas Attorney General wields considerable authority, representing Texas in lawsuits for and against the state. Paxton has filed 20 suits against the Biden administration, most of which have been presided over by Trump-appointed district judges.

Paxton has been a longstanding fixture in Texas politics, having served 10 years in the Texas State House and two in the State Senate before being elected in 2014 as state Attorney General.

A conservative firebrand, Paxton first drew national attention by handily defeating establishment Republican Dan Branch in the 2014 Texas GOP primary. As AG, Paxton aligned himself with the Tea Party movement and later became a close ally of former President Donald Trump.

Paxton was among 18 AGs who unsuccessfully filed a federal lawsuit to overturn results of the 2020 presidential in four key swing states, and spoke at the January 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the violent insurrection at the US Capitol.

Paxton won a third term as Attorney General in 2022, defeating civil rights attorney Rochelle Garza by 11.7%, after advancing from a May 4, 2022 GOP runoff in which he fended off a challenge by Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the grandson of former President George H. W. Bush, 68.1% to 31.9%.

Investigations and Indictments
Paxton's legal troubles began in 2015 -- just months into his first term as AG -- when he was indicted by a state grand jury for securities fraud. He has yet to stand trial for the three felony charges, which carry a sentence of five to 99 years in prison.

Paxton provoked the FBI's attention in 2020 when eight of his deputies accused him of bribery and abuse of office involving his interference in a federal case against real estate developer and Paxton campaign donor Nate Paul.

That investigation was taken over by the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section this February, when Paxton's request for $3.3 million in taxpayer funds to pay the settlement he reached with the staff whistleblowers drew greater scrutiny of his misconduct.

In 2022, Paxton was sued by the State Bar of Texas for professional misconduct surrounding his allegations of substantial voter fraud in the 2020 election lawsuit. Paxton's repeated attempts to dismiss the suit have been rebuffed by the courts.

In addition to the impeachment articles involving Paul, Paxton is accused of illegally delaying his 2015 securities fraud trial, lying to the State Security Board and Texas Ethics Commission, and violating the Texas Constitution.

The New AG
Under state law, Paxton is now temporarily suspended from his duties as attorney general.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has been silent on Paxton's impeachment, has elevated First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster, who has served as Paxton's second-in-command since 2020, as interim AG while impeachment proceedings continue.

Webster initially faced his own professional misconduct charges from the State Bar for his role in the lawsuit to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and is the subject of a suit brought by four whistleblowers who allege Webster fired them in retaliation for reporting Paxton to law enforcement.

The impeachment now goes before the Texas Senate, where a two-thirds majority of its 31 members is required to remove Paxton from office. Among Paxton's jurors is his wife, State Senator Angela Paxton, who has not yet recused herself from the trial.

It is yet to be determined whether the Governor will call a special election for Paxton's permanent replacement, make a new appointment, or keep Webster in the position through the end of Paxton's term.

In the interim, Webster, a self-proclaimed “constitutional conservative,” has indicated he will continue in the same mold as his predecessor. In a Saturday email to state agency employees, Webster touted the agency’s credentials as a foil to “the Biden Administration’s illegal actions.”

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: CNN, PBS, NPR, TimesLeader, DallasExpress, TexasTribune, Dallas Morning News

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