Permit this interpretation of this afternoon’s vote in the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives to impeach the state’s Republican attorney general: Enough!
Republicans have controlled state government here in Texas for more than 20 years: all the statewide offices are and have been held by Republicans, and GOP members hold and have held a majority in the state House and Senate. But today, 123 of the 149 House members (one seat is vacant) –- including 60 Republicans and all the House Democrats — impeached Ken Paxton on 20 charges, including bribery, abuse of public trust, and allegations of felony securities fraud that Paxton has been dodging trial for since shortly after he first took office as attorney general in 2015. (Yes, the Texas attorney general has been under indictment for alleged securities fraud for eight years now, and still no trial!) From The Texas Tribune this afternoon:
The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.
“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, a committee member, told House members.
“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”
And that, I believe, is the key to today’s decision. Ken Paxton has been suspected of…oh, shall we say, questionable behavior…since his time as a legislator. Did I mention the indictments on charges of securities fraud? (Oh yeah, I did.) And as The Texas Tribune explains, “Many of the articles of impeachment focused on allegations that Paxton had repeatedly abused his powers of office to help a political donor and friend, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
In fall 2020, eight top deputies in the attorney general’s office approached federal and state investigators to report their concerns about Paxton’s relationship with Paul.
All eight quit or were fired in the following months, and most of the details of their allegations against Paxton were revealed in a lawsuit by four former executives who claim they were fired — in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act — in retaliation for reporting Paxton to the authorities. Paxton’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit is awaiting action by the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.
According to the lawsuit, the whistleblowers accused Paxton of engaging in a series of “intense and bizarre” actions to help Paul, including intervening in an open-records case to help Paul gain documents from federal and state investigations into the real estate investor’s businesses. They also accused Paxton of directing his agency to intervene in a lawsuit between Paul and a charity, pushing through a rushed legal opinion to help Paul avoid a pending foreclosure sale on properties and ignoring agency rules to hire an outside lawyer to pursue an investigation helpful to Paul’s businesses.
In return, the whistleblower lawsuit alleged, Paul paid for all or part of a major renovation of a home Paxton owns in Austin. Paul also helped Paxton keep an extramarital affair quiet by employing the woman Paxton had been seeing, the lawsuit said, adding that the attorney general may also have been motivated by a $25,000 contribution Paul made to Paxton’s campaign in 2018.
In their report to the House General Investigating Committee on Wednesday, the panel’s investigators concluded that Paxton may have committed numerous crimes and violated his oath of office.
Investigators said possible felonies included abuse of official capacity by, among other actions, diverting staff time to help Paul at a labor cost of at least $72,000; misuse of official information by possibly helping Paul gain access to investigative documents; and retaliation and official oppression by firing employees who complained of Paxton’s actions to the FBI.
The articles of impeachment accused Paxton of accepting bribes, disregarding his official duties and misapplying public resources to help Paul.
I think it has just gotten to be too much – for Republicans! Those of them still connected to reality have come to realize that the party’s continued accusations of all manner of perfidy against anything with a Democratic Party label on it are becoming less and less realistic (they’ve already gone far beyond mere believability) as their party continues to pretend there is no corrupt elephant in their own living room. Some of them, I suspect, would be very happy to have Paxton gone from office but as they come face to face with a mountain of evidence gathered by their own party they’re fed up with the hypocrisy. Democrats, too, of course:
The Legislature had impeached state officials just twice since 1876 — and never an attorney general — but the House committee members who proposed impeachment argued Saturday that Paxton’s misconduct in office was so egregious that it warranted his removal.
“This gentleman [Paxton] is no longer fit for service or for office,” said committee member Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston. “Either this is going to be the beginning of the end of his criminal reign, or God help us with the harms that will come to all Texans if he’s allowed to stay the top cop on the take, if millions of Texans can’t trust us to do the right thing, right here, right now.”
Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, a member of the investigative committee, used his presentation time to criticize Paxton for calling representatives as they worked on the House floor to “personally threaten them with political consequences in the next election” if they supported impeachment.
What does Paxton have to say? What do think: he reverted to a standard Trumpian response to any accusation at all, saying in a statement that “The ugly spectacle in the Texas House today confirmed the outrageous impeachment plot against me was never meant to be fair or just. It was a politically motivated sham from the beginning.” Right.
What’s next? The Texas Constitution calls for Paxton to be temporarily suspected from office and the state Senate to conduct a trial, where it would take the votes of two-thirds of the members (21) to permanently remove Paxton from office and bar him from holding state office in the future. There are just 12 Democratic senators right now, so some of the 19 Republicans would have to vote against Paxton in order for him to be found guilty. By the way, one of those Republican senators is Angela Paxton. Ken Paxton’s wife, Angela Paxton, who might be a juror in a trial that accuses her husband of, among other things, using his official position to hush up an alleged extramarital affair. The state constitution requires all senators to attend an impeachment trial, no word yet if she will recuse herself.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since I wrote this piece the Republican chairman of the Texas House committee that investigated Attorney General Ken Paxton and brought the articles of impeachment has explained why he believes that “Paxton must be held accountable for his flagrant abuses of his office and of the public trust.” Read it for yourself right here in the Houston Chronicle.