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By ACACIA CORONADO, JIM VERTUNO and JAKE BLEIBERG – Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas House of Representatives will vote Saturday on whether to impeach state Attorney General Ken Paxton, an investigative panel announced Friday.
Paxton, 60, was on the brink of impeachment after years of scandals, criminal charges and allegations of corruption. The House of Representatives will consider a resolution of impeachment against Paxton at 1 p.m. Saturday, according to a statement released by the House Committee on General Investigations.
If impeached, Paxton would be forced to resign immediately.
The GOP-led committee spent months looking quietly at Paxton and recommended Thursday that the state attorney general be charged with 20 counts, including bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust.
Paxton, a Republican, criticized the impeachment effort as an attempt to “subvert the will of the people and disenfranchise the voters of our state.” He said the allegations were based on “rumor and gossip, repeating long-debunked claims.”
The announcement came as Republican support began to rally around the military attorney general, with the state GOP chairman calling the process a “fraud” and calling on the GOP-controlled Senate to acquit Paxton if the case goes to trial in that chamber.
First, there will be a vote in the House of Representatives, where the investigative team has proposed at least 40 minutes to make accusations against Paxton and four hours for members to deliberate.
“We cannot overstate the fact that, were it not for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement of his wrongful conduct, Paxat would not be facing impeachment by the House.”
The move to impeachment could be an extremely sudden downfall for one of the Republican Party’s most prominent human rights activists, who in 2020 asked the US Supreme Court to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Only two officials in the nearly 200-year history of Texas have been impeached.
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years for allegedly using his office to help a donor. In 2015, he was charged separately with securities fraud, but has not yet appeared in court.
When the five-member commission’s investigation was revealed on Tuesday, Paxton suggested it was a political attack by Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, a “liberal” speaker. He called for Phelan’s resignation and accused him of being drunk during a marathon session last friday. Phelan’s office dismissed the allegation as Paxton trying to “save face.”
“This is a sad day for Texas as we watch a corrupt political establishment unite in this illegal attempt to subvert the will of the people and deprive our state’s voters of their votes,” Paxton said in a statement Thursday, calling the committee’s findings “rumor and gossip, repeating claims that have long since been disproved.”
Opposing him, Paxton said, “The RINOs in the Texas Legislature are now on the same side as Joe Biden.”
Impeachment requires a majority vote of the normally 150-member chamber of the state House of Representatives, which is now controlled by Republicans 85-64. as the Republican Party representative resigned on the eve of the expected vote to expel him.
It’s unclear how many supporters Paxton might have in the House of Representatives, where he served five terms before becoming a state senator. Since Wednesday’s sudden prospect of impeachment, several top Republicans have backed Paxton.
But on Friday, statewide support for Paxton began to emerge. The most emphatic result came from state GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi, who called the pending impeachment “bogus” and noted that the Republican-led Senate would stop it.
“It is based on allegations already disputed by voters led by a liberal speaker who are trying to undermine their conservative opponents,” Rinaldi said.
“It looks like Texas Republicans must once again rely on the principled leadership of the Texas Senate to restore sanity and sanity to our state,” Rinaldi said.
The articles of impeachment issued by the investigative committee, which includes three Republicans and two Democrats, mostly relate to Paxton’s relationship with one of his wealthy donors. They largely concern Paxton’s alleged efforts to shield a donor from an FBI investigation and his attempts to thwart whistleblower complaints filed by his own employees.
The time of the House of Representatives vote is unclear. Representative Andrew Moore, the Republican chairman of the Investigative Committee, said he did not have a timeline, and Phelan’s office declined to comment.
Unlike Congress, impeachment in Texas requires immediate removal from office pending a trial in the Senate. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott may appoint a temporary replacement. Abbott’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the articles of impeachment.
Final removal would require two-thirds support in the Senate, of which Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican and Senate leader, did not respond to requests for comment.
Paxton, 60, is facing ouster from GOP lawmakers just seven months after narrowly winning a third term over rivals – among them George P. Bush — who urged voters to reject the tainted incumbent, but found that many were unaware of Paxton’s list of alleged wrongdoings or dismissed the allegations as political attacks.
The attorney general described his possible impeachment as “a critical moment for the rule of law and the will of Texas voters.”
Even as the regular session ends Monday, state law allows the House of Representatives to continue working on impeachment proceedings. It can also call itself back into the session later. The Senate has the same possibilities.
In some ways, Paxton’s political peril has arrived with startling speed, with the announcement of a House committee investigation on Tuesday followed by an unusual public release of alleged wrongdoing he committed as one of Texas’ most powerful figures the next day.
But for Paxton’s detractors, who now include a growing share of his own party in the Texas Capitol, the rebuke has been years in the making.
In 2014, he pleaded guilty to violating Texas securities laws by failing to register as an investment adviser when soliciting clients. A year later, a grand jury in his hometown near Dallas indicted Paxton on securities crimes, where he was accused of defrauding investors in a technology startup. He pleaded not guilty to the two counts, which carry between five and 99 years in prison.
He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from a supervisor whose company was under investigation by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son is Paxton was later accepted to a high position but was soon fired after trying to make his point by displaying child pornography at a meeting.
But Paxton’s greatest danger came from his relationship with another wealthy donor, Austin developer Nate Paul.
Several of Paxton’s top aides told the FBI in 2020 that they were concerned that the attorney general was abusing his official authority to help Paul over unproven allegations that there was a conspiracy to steal $200 million from his estate. Paul’s home was searched by the FBI in 2019, but he has not been charged and his lawyers have denied wrongdoing. Paxton also communicated this to the staff he had an affair with a woman who later turned out to be working for Paul.
The impeachment charges cover numerous allegations related to Paxton’s relationship with Paul. The allegations include attempting to interfere with foreclosure proceedings and improperly issuing legal opinions in Paul’s favor, as well as firing, harassing and interfering with employees who reported what was going on. The bribery allegations involve Paul allegedly hiring a woman with whom Paxton had an affair in exchange for legal assistance, and Paul allegedly paying for the expensive renovation of Paxton’s home in Austin.
The other charges date back to Paxton’s 2015 securities fraud conviction, including lying to state investigators.
All eight aides who reported Paxton to the FBI were fired or fired, and four later sued under the Texas whistleblower law. Paxton in February agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million. But the Texas House must approve the payout, and Phelan said he doesn’t believe taxpayers should foot the bill.
Shortly after the settlement was reached, the House began investigating Paxton. The investigation has led to rare scrutiny of Paxton at the state Capitol, where many Republicans have long remained silent on the allegations that dog him.
The Texas House of Representatives has only twice impeached an incumbent: Governor James Ferguson in 1917 and State Judge OP Carrillo in 1975.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press reporters Paul J. Weber and Jim Vertuno contributed from Austin, Texas.
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