Examining the Impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #80 | By: Ian Milden | June 21, 2023
Photo taken from: dallasnews.com

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The Texas State House voted to impeach state Attorney General Ken Paxton on May 27th after a lengthy and quiet investigation by a bipartisan state house committee. This brief will discuss the accusations against Paxton that led to his impeachment.

Analysis

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R-TX) has been impeached by the Texas State House of Representatives. Impeachments are formal accusations by the legislature of official misconduct by officials in the executive or judicial branches of government. Impeachments in state and federal politics are rare. Under Texas state law, Paxton is suspended from his role as Attorney General until a trial in the state senate resolves his situation.

In the impeachment articles, Paxton is accused of corruptly using his office to help Austin real estate developer and businessman Nate Paul in his business dealings. The impeachment articles also accuse Paxton of engaging in bribery after Paul hired a woman that Paxton had an extramarital affair with in exchange for favorable intervention in legal entanglements that Paul’s business faced. Paul was arrested by the FBI on June 9th in connection with matters related to the Paxton impeachment.

The FBI is also investigating Paxton regarding these allegations. The FBI is believed to have opened their investigation after receiving tips from staff members in the Texas Attorney General’s office. Paxton fired the staff members who reported him to the FBI, which resulted in a wrongful termination lawsuit against the state. After the lawsuit was settled for millions of dollars, the state legislature quietly began an investigation into Paxton.

The impeachment articles also accuse Paxton of lying to investigators about several matters including an accusation of securities fraud, which predated Paxton’s time as state Attorney General. Paxton was indicted for securities fraud back in 2015, but that case has yet to go to trial due to multiple legal filings attempting to change the venue. It appears that Texas state law prevents Paxton from being impeached for the securities fraud offense itself since it occurred before he took office.

While the vast majority of Republicans in the state house have turned on Paxton, he still has some supporters in national and state politics. Donald Trump put out a statement in Paxton’s defense. At least 25 Republicans in the state house did not vote to impeach Paxton. The state senate, which will conduct the trial, has historically been more ideologically conservative than the state house.

The ideological bent of the state senate might not be the only thing that could help Paxton keep his job if this impeachment case goes to trial. Paxton’s wife is a member of the state senate, so should be able to give her husband an indication of which way her colleagues are leaning. Paxton’s wife also has some financial entanglements with his campaign. Paxton’s wife has not said whether she will recuse herself in the upcoming trial. Dan Patrick, the Lieutenant Governor and presiding officer of the state senate, has also loaned Paxton money. Patrick would preside over the impeachment trial, and he has considerable influence over the legislative priorities and committee assignments in the state senate.

While it is unclear when exactly the trial will start, it will be done sometime this summer. The state senate will approve of rules for the trial on June 20th. The latest possible start date is August 28th.

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