Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has earned a reputation as a reliable Republican partisan, which is why it came as something of a surprise this week when he targeted an ostensible ally. In fact, Paxton not only accused House Speaker Dade Phelan of being drunk during legislative proceedings, he called for the powerful GOP state lawmaker to resign.
There’s been a fair amount of speculation about what motivated the state attorney general, but given the timing of the circumstances, it appears likely that Paxton was trying to get out ahead of his own intensifying troubles. The Associated Press reported:
A Republican-led investigation on Wednesday accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of committing multiple crimes in office — including felonies — during an extraordinary public airing of scandal and alleged lawbreaking that plunged one of the GOP’s conservative stars into new political and legal risk.
For those who might benefit from a refresher, let’s revisit our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.
By any fair measure, Texas’ Republican attorney general is one of the most scandal-plagued politicians in recent memory. Paxton was indicted by a grand jury, for example, over alleged securities fraud. The Texan is also facing a state bar investigation, which might lead to his disbarment. He’s also been credibly accused of overseeing a dysfunctional, incompetent, and politically weaponized office. A local district attorney’s office has also accused him of violating the state’s open records law.
Perhaps most important, though, is the fact that several top aides in the Texas attorney general’s office accused Paxton of corruption. After the allegations surfaced, the Republican fired or forced out several of the whistleblowers who hadn’t already resigned — leading to an out-of-court settlement that was announced earlier this year.
That case is currently the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.
But officials in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section aren’t the only ones who’ve taken an interest in the allegations. A state House investigation also scrutinized the controversy, and as the AP report added, its findings were brutal.
For more than three hours, investigators presented findings alleging Paxton sought to hide an affair, misused his office to help a donor, skirted protocols “grossly outside” norms and built a culture of fear and retaliation in his office. Investigators told the GOP-led House General Investigating Committee that there was evidence that Paxton repeatedly broke the law over the years, including by misusing official information, abusing his official capacity and retaliation.
Paxton accused investigators of being partisan Democrats, but a Texas Tribune report quickly discredited his false claims.
It’s not clear exactly what, if anything, state legislators will do in response to this report, but by all accounts, impeachment is a distinct possibility.
Paxton, it’s worth noting for context, ran for re-election in 2022, despite the fact that the public was aware of his many scandals. The state attorney general — who, incidentally, led Lawyers for Trump in the 2020 election cycle — was re-elected last fall with roughly 53% of the vote. That was up from his 2018 re-election race, when Paxton eked out a narrower victory with 50.6% of the vote.