'The fix was in from the start': Phelan speaks out about Paxton impeachment trial

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) defended his chamber’s decision to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton after the Texas Senate acquitted him last weekend and criticized the trial’s presiding officer for taking $3 million from a pro-Paxton group.

“Each member of the Texas House who voted to suspend Paxton from office did so bravely, out of the belief that Texans had every right to hear the evidence for themselves in a public, open trial,” Phelan wrote in the Beaumont Enterprise. 

“We didn’t vote to impeach because we wanted to punish our state’s top attorney, but rather to open the door to a fair and thorough discussion of the evidence before determining whether Paxton abused his office to a degree so extreme that makes him unfit for office. I stand by that vote, and I stand by the belief that Paxton’s conduct is beneath the office he holds. The evidence speaks for itself.”

Since his acquittal, Paxton has embarked upon a barn-burning conservative media tour blasting the lower chamber and its leader. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who oversaw Paxton’s trial in the Senate, has similarly piled on, criticizing the House’s process in which an investigation was done behind closed doors without sworn testimony. 

Patrick weighed in with a post-acquittal speech as soon as the gavel hit the desk, to which Phelan responded with a statement of his own.

He built on that response in the column, taking the rebuke even further.

“When the Senate trial began, I had full faith that the evidence and the process would allow the truth to prevail,” Phelan wrote. “I believed the Senate and its presiding officer would be so overwhelmed by Paxton’s repeated and apparent abuses of office that they would agree he should no longer serve as our state’s top cop. Imagine my disappointment when it became clear the Senate would allow politics to prevail over principles.”

Phelan then keyed in on the $3 million loan-donation combo given to him by the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, the pro-Paxton group run by former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford).

“In hindsight, no one should be surprised. The warning signs were there. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who led us to believe he would preside over this trial in a fair and just manner, took a whopping $3 million donation from a Political Action Committee pushing for Paxton’s exoneration before the trial even began,” Phelan added. 

“Patrick instituted a halfhearted gag order that tied the hands of House Members, who wanted to make their case to constituents. Patrick caved to demands from Paxton that he and other key witnesses, including Paxton’s mistress, should not have to testify.”

Patrick has said in previous statements that both counsels agreed to dismiss Laura Olson, Paxton’s alleged lover, as a witness. The House Board of Managers intended to call Olson with the understanding that she would “plead the Fifth” — though a meeting between counsels and Patrick concluded she would not take the stand.

With that, in addition to the claim that “Patrick neglected to enforce key subpoenas that would have led to important evidence coming to light,” Phelan declared, “the fix was in from the start.”

Phelan then defended the “whistleblowers” who accused Paxton of corruption in 2020, most of whom were called as witnesses during the trial.

He concluded, “Though the impeachment process at the Texas Legislature may be over, Paxton remains the subject of multiple other lawsuits, indictments and investigations. If the facts continue to come out, those who allowed him to keep his office will have much to answer for.”

Paxton was acquitted on all 16 charges after the trial and has since returned to office.

This column is just another step up in the long-running, brooding feud between the top two officials in the Texas Legislature.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick responded on social media, saying in part: 

"For Dade Phelan to cry foul and question the integrity of the Senate jurors and of my office when his rushed, no-facts, no-record process failed to achieve the results he wanted is disgusting and proves he is unworthy of his leadership position."

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