It isn't often that a Republican-controlled legislative body impeaches a Republican officeholder, no matter how corrupt he is. But lo and behold, Saturday the Texas House impeached Texas AG Warren "Ken" Paxton on a vote of 121-23, with 60 of the 86 Republicans voting for impeachment. Paxton is only the third Texas official to be impeached in the 180-year history of the state. So, surprisingly, there is a limit to how much corruption even 21st century Republicans will accept. Who knew?
There were 20 articles of impeachment approved by the state legislature. Paxton was impeached for not carrying out required duties, abusing his power, bribery, obstruction of justice, making false statements in public records, lying on his financial statements, conspiracy, misusing public funds, dereliction of duty, firing whistleblowers, and abusing the public trust, among other things. Paxton clearly believes in full-service corruption. Oh, and he's also under indictment for securities fraud, but that wasn't on the menu Saturday.
According to Texas law, once the vote was taken and Paxton was impeached, he was automatically suspended from his job. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) has the option of appointing an interim AG until the Senate trial is held. The trial date is uncertain because the legislative session ends today, so Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX) will have to call a special session for it. If Abbott declines to name an interim AG, the current first assistant AG, Brent Webster, becomes acting AG until the state Senate votes. The Texas Senate has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. They are paid $7,200/year plus a per diem, not exactly a Texas-sized salary, which may not result in the best and the brightest running for the state legislature (representatives get the same deal). It takes 21 votes in the Senate for a conviction. Since Paxton has his supporters, every vote may count.
Texas legislators are divided on the case. State Rep. Andrew Murr (R), who led the investigation into Paxton, told the representatives: "We will not tolerate corruption, bribery, abuse of office, retaliation and all the related charges that have been presented to you." On the other hand, Rep. John Smithee (R) defended Paxton by saying: "It's what I call the 'hang them now and judge them later' policy." Of course that is not true. Paxton will not be hanged at all, no matter what, and will have the chance to defend himself at the Senate trial. Democratic Rep. Ann Johnson really laid into Paxton for being so corrupt, as did other Democrats. House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) tried his best to stay neutral and keep the impeachment hearing orderly, and was largely successful. He ultimately voted to impeach, though.
Now comes the icky part. In 2018, Paxton had an affair with a woman who worked as an aide to a state senator. After he ended it, he didn't want her to go blabbing about it to the media (although his wife found out anyway). So he made a deal with his friend and donor, wealthy Austin real estate developer, Nate Paul, to give her a cushy job with his company and also to remodel his (Paxton's) house in return for favorable decisions in some foreclosure cases in which Paxton intervened for Paul. As we note above, the Senate vote after the trial could be close since a two-thirds majority is needed for conviction. One state senator who will be under very close scutiny will be Sen. Angela Paxton—Paxton's (still) wife. Some folks think she ought to recuse herself from the matter, but she is not saying what she will do because her vote could be the deciding one. Another senator who will be closely watched is Sen. Bryan Hughes (R), who is named in one of the articles of impeachment for having helped Paxton commit his crimes. It's messy. It's Texas. You expected otherwise?
Now comes the fun part. Paxton is as corrupt as can be, even by Texas standards, and everyone in the state legislature knows that. Even for $7,200/year you get people who graduated from at least elementary school and who can read and maybe write. So why does anyone support him? Maybe it has something to do with Donald Trump's enormous support for Paxton, who is a Texas-sized Trump fan. Paxton has led numerous court cases defending Trump. After the House debate began, Trump began posting to his boutique social media site, explaining who was behind the impeachment: "It is the Radical Left Democrats, RINOS, and Criminals that never stop. ELECTION INTERFERENCE! Free Ken Paxton, let them wait for the next election!" After the vote, Trump posted a video that purports to show that Phelan was drunk during the debate.
Oh, and during the debate, Paxton called several members of the legislature, threatening them if they voted for impeachment and conviction. Democrats threatened back, asking for a new article of impeachment for intimidation and jury tampering, but that didn't make it.
The ball is now in Patrick's court. As president of the state Senate, he gets to set the rules for the trial. He is a strong supporter of Paxton and especially Trump. He even claims credit for having Trump kick off his 2024 campaign in Waco, of all places. But this puts him on the opposite side from most Republican members of the state legislature. Should be interesting. (V)