Texas AG Impeachment: Delayed Justice Or Dumpster Fire?

The Texas House of Representatives is scheduled to meet at noon today to consider impeachment articles against the state’s attorney general.

The legislative body is expected to approve the articles and pass them on to the Texas Senate for a trial — if it gets that far with only three days left in the session. But first a little context into the intra-Republican acrimony of late.

It’s widely understood that the House is the more moderate of the two chambers of the Texas Legislature this session. House Speaker Dade Phelan even passed its own legislative priorities in contrast to what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott ordered earlier this year. Certain members of the Texas House Freedom Caucus began challenging Phelan’s priorities and leadership, including Rep. Tony Tinderholt who ran against Phelan.

When now-former Representative and prominent Phelan critic Bryan Slaton was removed from office by his Texas House of Representatives peers this month, he kept relatively silent. Slaton was accused of sexual relations with and providing alcoholic beverages to a staffer under the age of 21, for those just catching up.

The House General Investigating committee, usually known for slapping its members on the wrist from anything from DWI arrests to dropping cocaine at the airport, flexed its muscles this session, starting with the Slaton expulsion. In a chamber known for slow-walking legislation to death, the members of the House moved with alacrity to remove Slaton — immediately removing his name from a vote tally board in the House chamber and his name from his office door.

Now the same GI committee is after Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton, whose struggles with the law no secret to those following Texas politics or the voters who looked over them and re-elected him by 54%. Paxton has also joined in the criticism of the House and is viewed as being generally on the same side of the ever-growing Republican fence as Tinderholt and Slaton.

Paxton, much unlike Slaton, is not waiting for his day in court. He has not kept silent at all. Rather, as the state’s top cop, he came out swinging before the GI committee (after having begun looking at matters regarding Paxton earlier this session) began to move. Paxton launched a politically charged assault on Speaker Phelan for being drunk at the dais and (perhaps worse according to Texas voters) soft on Chinese communism. Paxton called for the GI committee to investigate Phelan.

Here’s Speaker Phelan’s “drunkenness” for context. The Hayride watched the House video feed before and after the slurring incident and he seemed fine. Phelan has not explained the incident or whether he sought a medical opinion.

And it’s nothing entirely new.

Almost immediately, the House GI committee noted it would meet to consider impeachment charges concerning Paxton. This was while several bills and reconciliation reports were approaching cascading deadlines and dropping like flies.

Rep. Andrew Murr, Phelan supporter and chairman of the investigating committee, referenced his trademark facial hair by saying the accusations against Paxton “made my mustache curl.” He followed by telling House members the impeachment resolution alleged “grave offenses” not to be taken lightly.

Supporters of the establishment and supporters of Paxton lined up on the usual sides.

https://twitter.com/MarkDavis/status/1661861519984939009

[Note: Davis corrected his tweet and said it would take a simple majority for the House to send the articles to the Senate.]

Paxton was under orders to provide all documents, but then this happened:

That’s right. An actual dumpster fire. At the Price Daniel Building, which is mostly Attorney General Office tenants. Who knows who started it — a Paxton supporter, an agent provocateur, a member of Austin’s burgeoning homeless community — and the AG’s office is asking anyone with information to come forward.

But a dumpster fire this has become. To summarize, Paxton is being accused today of 20 specific infractions of the law and what is expected of state officials.

During a brief floor session Thursday night, various House members asked if they (i.e. not just the GI committee) could look at the evidence surrounding each article. The response was that leadership would not respond to “hypothetical inquiries.”

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According to the left-leaning Texas Tribune, during Wednesday’s hearing, investigators told the GI committee’s three Republicans and two Democrats about allegations that Paxton had repeatedly “abused his office to help a friend and political donor,” Austin real estate investor Nate Paul. They largely relied on claims made by four former senior employees who filed a whistleblower lawsuit in 2022 arguing that Paxton improperly fired them after they reported concerns about Paxton’s actions to federal and state investigators, the publication reported.

The committee investigators said Paxton may have committed at least three felonies in an effort to help Paul with various legal troubles. These included spending $72,000 in staff labor on tasks that benefited the developer, providing Paul with an internal FBI file related to an investigation into Paul, and hiring an outside lawyer for $25,000 to conduct work that primarily benefited Paul, the Texas Tribune noted.

Paxton weathered these accusations and numerous other charges: Everything from a Collin County grand jury indictment on two counts of felony securities fraud related to private business deals in 2011, to accusations of insider stock trading, to a stolen fountain pen.

The articles mostly pertain to the Nate Paul whistleblower situation. The articles may be read here.

“It is a sad day in Texas as we witness the corrupt political establishment unite in an illegitimate attempt to overthrow the will of the people and disenfranchise the voters of our state,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday, calling the actions of the House illegal.

According to Texas law, an acting AG must be appointed by Gov. Abbott if the articles against Paxton are approved.

From the hip: The 88th Texas legislative session is scheduled to end on Memorial Day, Monday.  That means any judge weighing in on the situation and Lt. Gov. Patrick have the weekend plus a holiday to take action.

Otherwise, it will take a special called session to try and potentially remove Paxton from office.

With Lt. Gov. Patrick an ally of Paxton and Gov. Abbott silent on the matter, the chances of giving Paxton a full hearing is unlikely — though if it were to be ramrodded through, the legislature has proven its ability to act quickly when it has the will to do so. Stay tuned over the holiday weekend for a saga that may make even Louisiana politics look tame!

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