Texas House investigative committee recommends impeachment of AG Ken Paxton

An investigative committee in the Texas House of Representatives recommended articles of impeachment against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

“The chair moves that the committee adopt the articles of impeachment against Warren Kenneth Paxton, attorney general of the State of Texas, as embodied in the draft resolution and direct the chair to file that resolution with the chief clerk of the House,” said Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction). The vote was unanimous.

The committee also unanimously approved a motion to send preservation letters to the Texas Department of Public Safety in an effort to prevent the destruction of any evidence relevant to the case.

The recommendation followed a hearing on Wednesday in which investigators for the committee laid out evidence they have gathered supporting allegations that Paxton abused his office by directing his employees to issue favorable decisions for one of his friends, real estate developer Nate Paul.

Chris Hilton, chief of the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) General Litigation Division, told reporters as the committee met in executive session that its inquiry is an “illegal investigation.”

“Any discussion of impeachment is completely foreclosed by Texas law,” Hilton said.

The OAG official pointed to Texas Government Code Sec. 655.081, which seems to preclude impeachment for alleged misconduct prior to an election. Hilton contended Paxton’s alleged wrongdoing occurred before the election and the voters have already weighed in.

“The voters have spoken. They want Ken Paxton,” Hilton said, accusing the committee of failing to allow testimony from Paxton’s office. Hilton further said the committee is seeking to “thwart the will of the voters.”

Minutes before the committee voted on impeachment, Paxton tweeted, “Overturning elections begins behind closed doors.”

The committee sent multiple subpoenas to the OAG during the investigation, including two this week to a “John Doe Number 6,” presumed to be Paxton, and the OAG itself. The committee said it interviewed 15 total witnesses during its probe, including the four former employees who filed the Whistleblower lawsuit: David Maxwell, Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley, and Blake Brickman.

On the day investigators issued the subpoenas, Paxton accused Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) of presiding over the Texas House of Representatives while intoxicated, based on a video of Phelan slurring his words. It has not been confirmed or proven that Phelan was inebriated, though the speaker’s communications team characterized Paxton’s accusation as a “desperate” effort to “save face.”

The order of events that day went as follows:

At around 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the House General Investigating Committee announced a meeting to come at 3:00 p.m.

At 2:53 p.m., Paxton tweeted out his statement calling for the speaker’s resignation.

At 3:00 p.m., the committee convened and went into executive session.

At 3:10 p.m., the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) tweeted out the letter sent to the committee calling for an investigation into Phelan.

At around 4:40 p.m, the committee announced publicly that it had issued the two subpoenas in “Matter A,” now known to be the Paxton probe, and would hear public testimony the following day at 8:00 a.m.

The committee is composed of Murr and Reps. Ann Johnson (D-Houston), Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), and David Spiller (R-Jacksboro).

The House’s investigation began in March after Paxton and his office requested that the Legislature appropriate funding to pay for the $3.3 million settlement he agreed to with his former employees in the “Whistleblower” lawsuit.

In a February interview, Phelan indicated he believes the settlement would not be a “proper use of taxpayer dollars.”

“I don’t anticipate that $3.3 million being in the House budget,” Phelan said.

“Mr. Paxton’s going to have to come to the Texas House, he’s going to have to appear before the Appropriations Committee, and make a case to that committee as to why that is a proper use of taxpayer dollars, and then he’s going to have to sell it to 76 members of the Texas House. That is his job, not mine.”

The Legislature did not appropriate funds to pay for the settlement and included a rider precluding the use of taxpayer funds for the payout.

It had been referred to by the committee as “Matter A” but did not disclose the subject until this week.

Paxton issued a statement after the Wednesday meeting, excoriating Speaker Dade Phelan and the committee for the probe. His statement also suggested the attorney general believed the committee planned to impeach him.

Impeachment would require a two-thirds vote of each chamber — 100 in the House and 21 in the Senate — and if the House votes to impeach, Paxton would be temporarily removed from office while the upper chamber considers conviction.

The Legislature has seldom used impeachment; in 1917, Gov. James E. Ferguson was impeached and removed from office for various public corruption charges. In 1975, the House impeached O.P. Carrillo, then a judge on the 229th Judicial District on public corruption charges.

Earlier this month, the Texas House voted to expel Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City) on recommendation of the General Investigating Committee on the grounds that the member had an inappropriate sexual relationship with his staffer.

The committee had been given permission to meet throughout the session.