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House ethics panel recommends impeachment for Texas AG Ken Paxton

May 25, 2023 Updated Thu., May 25, 2023 at 8:52 p.m.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021, in Dallas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS)  (Brandon Bell)
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021, in Dallas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS) (Brandon Bell)
By Lauren McGaughy and Allie Morris Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN, Texas – In a historic move that portends the ouster of one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, a House ethics panel on Thursday recommended the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The recommendation comes after House investigators who conducted a months-long ethics probe into Paxton found he abused his office and broke the law to help a campaign donor.

An impeachment vote of the full House could come as soon as this weekend and would force GOP lawmakers to decide whether to eject one of the state’s most prominent Republicans. If a majority of House members agree to impeach, the Senate would hold a trial on whether to remove him from office. Paxton, 60, already is gearing up for a blow-out fight. An agency attorney stormed into the committee room on Thursday, demanding to be heard as a witness and calling the impeachment proceedings “illegal.”

Once impeachment proceedings begin, Paxton would be barred from performing his official duties. It’s unclear whether Gov. Greg Abbott would appoint an interim attorney general or who would take the helm at an agency that acts as the state’s law firm.

The impeachment recommendation alone is rare in Texas. A state officeholder hasn’t been impeached and removed from office since 1975. Only two officials have suffered this fate in Texas history.

Paxton has been dogged by ethics scandals throughout his three terms as the state’s top lawyer. Shortly after taking office, he was indicted on felony securities fraud charges that have still not gone to trial. He has also been investigated, and cleared, of other bribery allegations.

Despite these legal troubles, Paxton has repeatedly won reelection and remains a close ally of former President Donald Trump.

He rose to national prominence for fighting the 2020 presidential election result and has made a name for himself in Texas with relentless lawsuits against the Biden administration and a focus on culture war issues.

The House ethics probe began in March, around the time Paxton asked the Legislature to fund a $3.3 million settlement with a group of whistle-blowers who accused him of abusing his office to help a campaign donor.

The five-member House Committee on General Investigating convened on Thursday and went into a closed door session. They emerged and voted unanimously to recommend impeachment. There was no debate, and the panel members did not elaborate. GOP Chairman Andrew Murr is filing the formal resolution Thursday evening.

Before the vote, a high-ranking Paxton deputy interrupted the proceedings and demanded to present testimony to the hearing.

General Litigation Division Chief Chris Hilton said the committee did not contact Paxton’s agency during their investigation and accused it of trying to subvert the attorney general’s right to weigh in on the allegations.

The committee rejected Hilton’s request and instead proceeded to meet privately in executive session. Hilton proceeded into the hallway outside the hearing room, where he told reporters that state law only allows officials to be impeached for conduct committed since the last election.

Paxton was reelected in November 2022.

“These accusations were against General Paxton, have been against him for years,” Hilton said. “The voters have rejected these smears. They’ve rejected these attacks. And this committee is trying to undermine the will of the voters by investigating him without so much as reaching out to us to participate in the process.”

He said case law supported his interpretation of the impeachment process but would not answer about what precedent to which he was referring. Hilton also did not answer questions about whether he was sent to officially represent Paxton or whether Paxton planned to testify himself.

After a few minutes of questions, Hilton and Paxton special adviser Suzanna Hupp said they had to leave. Reporters were physically blocked from pursuing them up the stairs of the Capitol.

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