How Texas A.G. Paxton’s Trumpian Antics Led to Impeachment

Sealing his fate

Suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton at a press conference ahead of his impeachment (photo by Jana Birchum)

Attorney General Ken Paxton never should have asked the citizens of Texas to fork over $3.3 million to settle that whistle­blower lawsuit. His request, Texas House leaders say, led directly to his May 27 impeachment. A memo from the House General Investigating Committee spelled it out: "We cannot over-emphasize the fact that, but for Paxton's own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment by the House."

The $3.3 million, which the House has not approved, would have helped end the lawsuit brought in 2020, when Paxton fired four of his highest-ranking employees after they warned that he was taking bribes. He negotiated the cash settlement with the former employees in February but apparently didn't want to use his own money to pay it, so he asked the state to do so. Instead of authorizing the payment, the House directed a team of investigators to look into the claims contained in the lawsuit and other evidence of misconduct. Now, Paxton has been suspended from office and will face an impeachment trial in the Senate.

On Monday, word came that the trial will begin no later than Aug. 28. The five members of the General Investigating Committee, who made the case for Paxton's impeachment to the full House, will be joined by seven more members, for a total of seven Republicans and five Democrats. The House members will serve as prosecutors in the Senate. They will present witnesses who will give testimony and be subject to cross-examination. The 31 senators will act as jurors deciding Paxton's fate. If two-thirds vote for impeachment, Paxton will be permanently removed from office.

The announcement of the impeachment timetable came two days after the House's overwhelming vote on Saturday – 121 to 23 in favor of impeachment, with 60 of the House's 85 Republicans voting aye. This rebuke of the most recognizable attorney general in the nation – a culture warrior joined at the hip with Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Gov. Greg Abbott – was revelatory. With it, Speaker of the House Dade Phelan elevated his profile, moving toward the center and demonstrating a strong connection with his caucus. The decision of House leadership to abruptly adjourn from the special session sine die on Tuesday night – with no concern for how the Senate reacted – reinforced the impression that he is coming into his own.

The Case

Before the weekend's historic vote, members of the General Investigating Committee laid out the case against Paxton, drawing from hundreds of pages of documents and interviews with at least 15 people, including the whistleblowers who brought the 2020 lawsuit. Committee Chair Andrew Murr told the House that the articles of impeach­ment against Paxton contained as many as 18 potential crimes, ranging from class A misdemeanors to second-degree felonies.

A significant number of these concerned Paxton's special relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul – and they were astounding. Rep. David Spiller told House members that Paxton, among other things, worked hard to provide Paul with a secret FBI document detailing what the agency learned when it served a search warrant on Paul's home. "Nate Paul wanted the unredacted version and Attorney General Paxton tried to help him get it," Spiller told the House. "Attorney General Paxton revealed that he had spoken personally with Nate Paul and told OAG staff that he didn't want to help the FBI or [the Texas Department of Public Safety] in any way. Attorney General Paxton then took the entire file that had all the responsive documents, including documents sealed by federal court, and didn't return them for approximately 10 days."

“He put the interests of himself over the taxpayers, whom he asked to foot the bill for millions of dollars to pay for his illegal activity.”   – State Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro

Spiller said Paxton tried to undermine the FBI's investigation of Paul by telling his subordinates to create an unusual OAG opinion that saved 15 of Paul's properties from foreclosure. Rep. Ann Johnson told members that Paul repaid Paxton with a $20,000 check and by giving a job to a woman with whom Paxton was having an affair. "The affair is important because it goes to Ken Paxton's political strength," Johnson said. "He knows that with his folks, he is family values. He is a Christian man. And the idea of the exposure of the affair will risk him with his base. He has an interest in attempting to keep this affair quiet."

Paxton's wife, Angela, serves in the Senate. She will soon – unless she recuses herself, but how likely is that? – hear testimony in person about her husband's affair. Angela has not commented on the impeachment and her boss, Dan Patrick, has not rushed to Paxton's defense (nor has Greg Abbott). Instead, the lieutenant governor is playing the role of the sober, fair-minded statesman. When asked by journalist Jason Whitely if Paxton would be convicted in the Senate, Patrick replied, "I can't say a word about it. Look, if you went to a judge and said, 'Judge, can you tell me how the case is gonna turn out?' – you know, I'm not at liberty to say. And by the way, I don't cast a vote."

Paxton has responded to the allegations against him with completely unoriginal bluster and projection. He has referred to the fired whistleblowers as Democrats – an absurd lie: They are well-known as right-wing conservatives. He has called the House investigators who laid out the case against him "liberal lawyers" – another absurdity. He now routinely refers to Dade Phelan as a liberal and those who voted for impeachment as "corrupt politicians." Meanwhile, Rep. Charlie Geren, yet another "liberal Republican," has complained that Paxton improperly lobbied House members before their vote.

There were quite a few high-minded remarks about personal integrity and civic duty delivered during the House's impeachment debate, but none outshone those of Spiller. The Republican representative said he took no satisfaction in detailing Paxton's crimes. He lauded Paxton's "brilliant legal mind," and noted that he has doggedly fought democratic policies. But, Spiller said, Paxton violated his oath of office.

"He put the interests of himself over the top officials in the Office of the Attorney General, that he fired and retaliated against for reporting in good faith their belief that he violated the law," Spiller said. "He put the interests of himself over the lawful functions of the FBI, the DPS, and other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, and their attempts to investigate and prosecute criminal activity. He put the interests of himself over the taxpayers, whom he asked to foot the bill for millions of dollars to pay for his illegal activity and to pay for his personal interests, all without having to answer any questions under oath about his activities and actions. And he put the interests of himself over the citizens of the state of Texas."

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