AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton teetered on the brink of impeachment Thursday after years of scandal, criminal charges and corruption accusations that the state's Republican majority had largely met with silence for years until now.
In an unanimous decision, a Republican-led investigative committee that spent months quietly looking into Paxton recommended impeaching the state's top lawyer. The state House of Representatives could vote on the recommendation as soon as Friday. If the House impeaches Paxton, he would be forced to leave office immediately.
The move sets set up a remarkably sudden downfall for one of the GOP's most prominent legal combatants, who in 2020 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn President Joe Biden's victory. Only two other officials in Texas’ nearly 200-year history have been impeached.
Below are the Articles of Impeachment filed on Thursday
In a statement posted to Twitter after the impeachment recommendation, Paxton said:
"Texas faces a critical moment for the rule of law and the will of Texas voters. Only months ago, Texans went to the polls and made a choice. They made their choice during a primary where over 1.5 million Texans cast their vote. They made that choice again when over 8 million people voted in the general election. Just yesterday, four liberal lawyers put forward a report to the House General Investigating Committee based on hearsay and gossip, parroting long-disproven claims. Today, that Committee has asked the Texas House of Representatives to use their unsubstantiated report to overturn the results of a free and fair election. This process provided no opportunity for rebuttal or due process. They even refused to allow a senior attorney from my office to provide the facts. They rejected every attempt to seek a full accounting of the truth.
By attacking the Office of the Attorney General, corrupted politicians in the Texas House, led by liberal Speaker Dade Phelan, are actively destroying Texas's position as the most powerful backstop against the Biden agenda in the entire country. The RINO's in the Texas Legislature are now on the same side as Joe Biden, Alejandro Mayorkas, and Chuck Schumer, collaborating to tie our hands and render Texas less powerful and effective in the fight for the nation's future. They want nothing more than to sabotage our legal challenges to Biden's extremist agenda by taking me out as the state's Attorney General.
There is a reason CNN called Texas "a legal graveyard for Biden policies." I am doing exactly what voters elected me to do. It is a sad day for Texas as we witness the corrupt political establishment unite in this illegitimate attempt to overthrow the will of the people and disenfranchise voters of our state."
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, but has yet to stand trial.
Unlike in Congress, impeachment in Texas requires immediate removal from office until a trial is held in the Senate. That means Paxton faces ouster at the hands of GOP lawmakers just seven months after easily winning a third term over challengers — among them George P. Bush — who had urged voters to reject a compromised incumbent but discovered that many didn't know about Paxton's litany of alleged misdeeds or dismissed the accusations as political attacks. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could appoint an interim replacement.
Paxton has suggested that the investigation that came to light to week is a politically motivated attack and said the Republican House leadership is too “liberal” for the state.
According to Mark Jones, Ph.D., with the Baker Institute of Rice University, the real surprise was the timing.
"None of the allegations that are surprises at all. The fact that they're moving for impeachment, and they're doing so in the waning days of the legislative session are somewhat of a surprise," Jones said. "I think it's part timing by the House. And it's also what's interesting about all this is it's not clear what the House is endgame is, until we know what Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott thing, because if the lieutenant governor is not supportive of impeachment, then Paxton will be exonerated if it makes it to the Senate. It's only I think if the lieutenant governor comes down on the side of those who want to impeach the attorney general, that there may be a prospect of Paxton actually being impeached from office."
Chris Hilton, a senior lawyer in the attorney general’s office, told reporters before Thursday's committee vote that what investigators said about Paxton was “false,” “misleading,” and “full of errors big and small.” He said all of the allegations were known to voters when they reelected him in November.
Impeachment requires a two-thirds vote of the state's 150-member House chamber, where Republicans hold a commanding 85-64 majority.
In one sense, Paxton's political peril arrived with dizzying speed: House Republicans did not reveal they had been investigating him until Tuesday, followed the next day by an extraordinary public airing of alleged criminal acts he committed as one of Texas' most powerful figures.
But to Paxton's detractors, who now include a widening share of his own party in the Texas Capitol, the rebuke was seen as years in the making.
In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law over not registering as an investment advisor while soliciting clients. A year later, Paxton was indicted on felony securities charges by a grand jury in his hometown near Dallas, where he was accused of defrauding investors in a tech startup. He has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts that carry a potential sentence of five to 99 years in prison.
He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was under investigation by Paxton's office for Medicaid fraud. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton later hired to a high-ranking job but was soon fired after trying to make a point by displaying child pornography in a meeting.
What has unleashed the most serious risk to Paxton is his relationship with another wealthy donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
RELATED: Who is Nate Paul?
Several of Paxton's top aides in 2020 said they became concerned the attorney general was misusing the powers of his office to help Paul over unproven claims that an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million of his properties was afoot. The FBI searched Paul's home in 2019 but he has not been charged and his attorneys have denied wrongdoing. Paxton also told staff members that he had an affair with a woman who, it later emerged, worked for Paul.
Paxton's aides accused him of corruption and were all fired or quit after reporting him to the FBI. Four sued under Texas' whistleblower laws, accusing Paxton of wrongful retaliation, and in February agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million. But the Texas House must approve the payout and Phelan has said he doesn't think taxpayers should foot the bill.
Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House investigation into Paxton began. The probe amounted to rare scrutiny of Paxton in the state Capitol, where many Republicans have long taken a muted posture about the accusations that have followed the attorney general.
That includes Abbott, who in January swore in Paxton for a third term and said the way he approached the job was “the right way to run the attorney's general's office.”
Only twice has the Texas House impeached a sitting official: Gov. James Ferguson in 1917 and state Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975.
Below is the Texas code on impeachment