Watch: Texas House debates impeachment of embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton

6 months 1 week 6 days ago Saturday, May 27 2023 May 27, 2023 May 27, 2023 1:47 PM May 27, 2023 in News - Texas news
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton makes a statement to the press Friday, a day before a scheduled impeachment vote in the Texas House. Credit: Bob Daemmrch

"Watch: Texas House debates impeachment of embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton" 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.

Watch live impeachment proceedings

The Texas House intends to take up a resolution to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton at 1 p.m. Saturday, according to a memo from the House General Investigating Committee.

Citing Paxton’s “long-standing pattern of abuse of office and public trust,” the memo said it was imperative for the House to proceed with impeachment to prevent Paxton from using his office’s “significant powers” to further obstruct and delay justice. The committee proposed allocating four hours of debate, evenly divided between supporters and opponents of impeachment, with 40 minutes for opening arguments by committee members and 20 minutes for closing statements. A simple majority is needed to send the matter to a trial before the Senate. If the House votes to impeach Paxton, the memo said, the House would conduct the trial in the Senate through a group of House members called “managers.”

The committee stressed that Paxton’s request earlier this year for the Legislature to pay $3.3 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit led to its investigation and ultimately the articles of impeachment. The memo also said impeachment is not a criminal process and its primary purpose is to “protect the state, not to punish the offender.”

The memo also addressed arguments by lawyers with the attorney general’s office who called the committee investigation illegal because impeachment proceedings could not be initiated against Paxton for crimes alleged to have occurred before his last election in 2022. The memo said the so-called “forgiveness doctrine” did not apply in Paxton’s case. The committee cited the most famous impeachment case in Texas history to support its argument, noting that in 1917, Gov. James Ferguson was impeached on four articles that related to his conduct before and during the 1916 election. The Senate convicted Ferguson on those counts.

James Barragán

Paxton's supporters and critics line up to witness state history

Texans lined up outside the House chamber Saturday morning for the rare chance to watch impeachment proceedings against a state attorney general — an unprecedented event that comes at the tail end of the regular legislative session.

“I’m here to watch history in the making and stand for our Attorney General Ken Paxton,” said Marcia Watson, 60, with County Citizens Defending Freedom, a political nonprofit.

Watson stood in line more than an hour before the impeachment hearing was set to begin at 1 p.m.

The Capitol was busy with visitors taking photos and wandering the halls Saturday morning, but the building was otherwise calm, despite calls from Paxton last night for protesters to come in his defense. When the doors to the House opened, people filed inside, but many seats remained empty when House Speaker Dade Phelan gaveled in around 1 p.m.

Paxton, who has been at the center of several scandals, faces 20 articles of impeachment that House members will debate and vote on this afternoon.

Watson said none of the information revealed by the Texas House General Investigating Committee, which has been secretly investigating Paxton since March, is new to voters, and that voters reelected him despite the accusations and indictments against him.

She called the impeachment proceedings “political theater” and a “distraction” from the other bills that have yet to be voted on before the session ends Monday, and said she and other Paxton supporters planned to pack the gallery.

Seated on a bench outside the Capitol in the shade, Lynn Tozner was the only protester outside on a warm Saturday. She wasn’t sure if Department of Public Safety officers would let her inside with her sign that read “Remove Paxton — unfit for office.”

Although she's eager to see Paxton impeached, Tozner isn’t under any impression that will make a difference.

Tozner said when she heard that Paxton called on his supporters to come “peacefully” protest, she decided to come with her sign.

“I’m not going to let this guy hijack my state Capitol. I’m here to show my opinion,” she said, a distant ice cream truck jingling in the background.

Paxton supporters and critics formed a line outside the House gallery to watch the proceedings — an unusual sight, even during a legislative session.

Rebecca Broughton, who was at the Capitol for a second day since the impeachment was announced, offered stickers that said, “Ken Paxton Texas Attorney General” to those in line. A group wearing bright red T-shirts gladly accepted the stickers. Others quietly demurred.

— William Melhado and Lucy Tompkins

Accusations include bribery, obstruction of justice and dereliction of official duty

Attorney General Ken Paxton faces 20 charges in the Texas House — a range of criminal acts that include disregard of official duty, misapplication of public resources and obstruction of justice.

Collectively, the impeachment articles accuse the attorney general, reelected last year by voters who shrugged off his scandals, of a yearslong pattern of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking.

Paxton has faced allegations of wrongdoing for years, but Texas Republicans have largely avoided taking any official action against him. Shortly after first taking office, he was indicted on state securities fraud charges, a criminal case he continues fighting. In 2020, senior officials in his office asked the FBI to investigate allegations that he had abused his authority to help a wealthy friend and donor. Those claims led to a whistleblower lawsuit alleging Paxton retaliated against his former deputies.

For a full list of the impeachment charges, click here.

Chuck Lindell, James Barragán and Patrick Svitek

Impeachment efforts set off political earthquake

??For nearly a decade, Texas Republicans largely looked the other way as Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal problems piled up. That abruptly changed this week.

In revealing it had been secretly investigating Paxton since March — and then recommending his impeachment Thursday — a Republican-led state House committee sought to hold Paxton accountable in a way the GOP has never come close to doing. It amounted to a political earthquake, and while it remains to be seen whether Paxton’s ousting will be the outcome, it represents a stunning act of self-policing.

The House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously to recommend impeachment of Paxton, citing a yearslong pattern of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking. The vote included all three Republicans who make up a majority on the panel — and it launched a process that will likely force every other Republican in the Legislature to go on the record.

That is something most Texas Republicans have avoided since Paxton was first elected as the state’s top legal official in 2014. Months into his first term, he was indicted on state securities fraud charges, a criminal case he is fighting to this day. And in 2020, senior officials in his office asked the FBI to investigate allegations that he had abused his authority to help a wealthy friend and donor. Those claims led to a whistleblower lawsuit alleging Paxton retaliated against his former deputies.

Along the way, there have been other scandals, like the allegation that he cheated on his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.

Read more here.

Patrick Svitek

Conservative Republicans defend Paxton, who criticizes proceedings

Speaking briefly at a press conference a day before the anticipated House impeachment vote, Attorney General Ken Paxton said House members were “showcasing their absolute contempt for the electoral process” and “inflicting lasting damage” on their chamber, which is controlled by the GOP and whose speaker is also a Republican.

In statements and social media posts, conservatives accused their fellow Republicans in the Texas House — Speaker Dade Phelan in particular — of attempting to undermine voters and conservative values by attacking Paxton. And, largely without addressing the merits of the many accusations against Paxton, they framed him as the victim of a political witch hunt that was orchestrated by a cabal of Democrats and “Republicans in name only.”

“The impeachment proceedings against the Attorney General are but the latest front in the Texas House’s war against Republicans to stop the conservative direction of our state,” Matt Rinaldi, chair of the Republican Party of Texas, said in a statement. “This sham impeachment is the result of the Phelan leadership team empowering Democrats, allowing them to hold leadership positions and letting them control the agenda.”

Rinaldi is thus far the highest-positioned Texas Republican to condemn the investigation. Gov. Greg Abbott has remained silent, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who would preside over an impeachment trial in the Senate, has said it would be improper for him to weigh in.

National Republicans are filling the void, however. While former President Donald Trump — a Paxton ally who endorsed his campaign before last year’s GOP primary — has not commented, his son Donald Trump Jr. said Friday that the investigation into “America First patriot Ken Paxton” is a “disgrace.”

“MAGA stands with Ken Paxton against this RINO/DEMO led witch hunt!!!” Trump Jr. tweeted.

Other prominent right-wing figures have come to Paxton’s defense. Citing Paxton’s frequent lawsuits against the Biden administration, former Trump adviser Stephen Miller called on conservatives to “stand with Ken.” And Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted of homicide after fatally shooting two Black Lives Matter protesters in Wisconsin, accused Phelan of working with “anti-gun Democrats” and “attacking our pro-gun attorney general.”

Patrick Svitek, Robert Downen and Zach Despart

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/05/27/texas-ken-paxton-impeachment-updates/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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