AUSTIN (KXAN) — A team of lawyers working with the House ethics committee spent nearly three hours Wednesday morning laying out extensive details covering years of misconduct allegations against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, pointing towards the possibility the state’s top law enforcement official could face impeachment.
The five attorneys working with the House Committee on General Investigating told the panel during their Wednesday meeting that they began looking into Paxton in March after a proposal to use state funds to pay $3.3 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by four former employees who accused Paxton of wrongdoing. They ultimately said the evidence they collected these past few months would support at least a dozen criminal charges against Paxton, which included abuse of official capacity, official oppression, securities fraud, making false statements and others. However, it’s important to note only a prosecutor would be able to officially file any of these charges.
“The trajectory of the committee leads only to impeachment,” a senior House staffer told KXAN Wednesday. “I would expect they’re going to move pretty quickly.”
After listening to that lengthy list, the committee’s chairman, Republican Rep. Andrew Murr of Junction, said, “That’s alarming to hear. It curls my mustache.”
The committee’s attorneys accused Paxton both of criminal activity and ethical impropriety relating, in short, to favors he did for a political donor, the Austin-based real estate investor Nate Paul. The team said their evidence found Paxton accepted improper gifts from Paul, used his office to influence legal action that benefited Paul and retaliated against employees who questioned his actions.
After hearing testimony from the attorneys, members of the House general investigating committee met behind closed doors in executive session. The members came back to the hearing room about a half hour later. Chairman Murr announced the committee made no decisions in executive session, then adjourned the meeting.
As evidence mounts, so do calls for action from watchdog groups.
“Public officials in Texas are not and should not be above the law. Ken Paxton as our Attorney General is our top law enforcement official and yet throughout his entire term, you know he has avoided accountability for alleged crimes,” Director of Public Citizen Texas said. “We’re going to call on the legislature now to move to impeach Ken Paxton.”
On Tuesday the House committee issued a subpoena to Paxton’s office, and the members sent a letter to the attorney general directing him to preserve all evidence related to this whistleblower settlement investigation. The five-member panel has the power to recommend impeachment, which could lead to Paxton’s removal from office.
Paxton went on defense when he released a statement on his personal Twitter account Wednesday afternoon. He accused the committee of seeking “to disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as Attorney General,” suggesting this is part of an effort to remove him from office.
“The false testimony of highly partisan Democrat lawyers with the goal of manipulating and misleading the public is reprehensible,” Paxton’s statement read. “Every allegation is easily disproved, and I look forward to continuing my fight for conservative Texas values.”
Shortly before details about that subpoena became public, Paxton called on House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign, accusing him of leading the chamber while drunk. Video from early Saturday morning showed Phelan slurring his words during a lengthy debate over a bill to ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities.
Phelan’s office did not offer comment Tuesday evening about the behavior in question, but instead pointed to the committee’s investigation into Paxton. A spokesperson said in a statement, “Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last ditch effort to save face.”
Paxton went on a Dallas-based radio show Wednesday morning, again calling on Phelan to resign. He also called the House committee investigation “unprecedented” and “shocking.” He said the committee should instead launch an investigation into Phelan. According to a photo shared on Twitter, Paxton sent a letter to this same panel Tuesday pushing for an investigation into the Speaker for possibly appearing impaired while on the job.
If the House Committee on General Investigating does decide to bring forth impeachment proceedings, they will begin in the House of Representatives. The legislature is not bound by the regular session’s calendar, which ends on Monday. The House could decide to bring up the matter themselves.