Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton prepares to testify at a Texas Senate hearing in 2015 (Photo by Jana Birchum)
Attorney General Ken Paxton has been under investigation for felony crimes for close to a decade, but his political career has never faced any serious repercussion.
That changed dramatically on Tuesday evening, May 23, with the sudden revelation that the Texas House of Representatives has been secretly investigating Paxton since March. House Speaker Dade Phelan announced that the House Special Investigating Committee would hear public testimony against Paxton.
That testimony began Wednesday morning at 8am and it was bombshell material. According to reporting by the Texas Tribune and other outlets, four investigators with the committee told members they believed Paxton had broken state law multiple times and used state funds to benefit at least one friend and political donor.
Specifically, the investigators discussed the allegations behind the $3.3 million settlement that Paxton is asking taxpayers to pay for to end a lawsuit brought against him by four of his former deputies. Those deputies, conservative Republicans who had worked alongside Paxton at the upper echelon of the AG’s office, have claimed they were fired after telling Paxton that he was breaking the law by taking bribes. After their firing, the four launched a whistleblower lawsuit in 2020 accusing Paxton of abusing his office to benefit his friend and donor, Austin developer Nate Paul.
Rep. Andrew Murr, chair of the committee, noted that authorizing the payment that Paxton is requesting would keep the details of his alleged misconduct from ever becoming public. “Millions of taxpayer dollars have been asked to remedy what is alleged to be some wrongs,” Murr said. “That’s something we have to grapple with. It’s challenging.”
Harvey Kronberg, a highly respected insider who has written on the legislature for decades in his Quorum Report, wrote on Twitter that he believed the investigators’ testimony could push Paxton out of office. “Impeachment of Paxton & Senate trial near certainty after exhaustive testimony,” Kronberg wrote. “Would not be delayed by sine die [the end of the legislative session]. House & Senate can call themselves back in if Governor does not. Does Paxton leave gracefully? Speculation already turns to new AG to be appointed by Greg Abbott.”
As the public portion of the committee meeting concluded around 11am, Paxton released a statement in which he attacked the House speaker as “liberal Speaker Dade Phelan.”
“Every allegation is easily disproved,” Paxton stated, “and I look forward to continuing my fight for conservative Texas values.”
His shot at Phelan echoed the tone of an attack that Paxton had leveled against the speaker on Tuesday evening, probably in anticipation of the news about the committee meeting. Then, Paxton made reference to a video of Phelan that has recently gone viral, taken after the speaker presided over the House for 14 hours on May 19. In the video, the speaker slurs his words as he conducts House business.
“It is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislative session,” Paxton wrote. “Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication…. While I hope Speaker Phelan will get the help he needs, he has proven himself unworthy of Texans’ trust and incapable of leading the Texas House.”
Phelan responded that, with the committee meeting set to occur the next morning, Paxton was attempting to “save face.”
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