AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Republican-led House is now poised to vote Saturday on the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton within the final days of the legislative session.
The House General Investigating Committee presented the articles of impeachment to members late Thursday night, after unanimously adopting a formal recommendation to move toward impeachment. The five-member panel, with a conservative majority, revealed on Wednesday that it had been investigating the embattled attorney general since March.
Although misconduct allegations have plagued Paxton since his first term in office, the committee’s investigation started after a proposal emerged to use state funds to pay $3.3 million to settle Paxton’s whistleblower lawsuit filed by four former employees who accused him of wrongdoing.
If Paxton is impeached, he’ll join two other state officials on the Texas history books who have been formally ousted. Here’s what we know about how the process works:
Texas impeachment process differs from federal procedure
The House only needs a simple majority of members in order to impeach an official. Republican sources tell Nexstar they expect to have enough votes in the House to impeach Paxton.
If that happens then, articles of impeachment will be delivered to the governor, lieutenant governor and senators. The two state leaders can start the trial within 15 days of receiving the documents. During the trial, senators will act as a jury and must take a vote of impartiality. The Senate needs two-thirds of votes in favor in order to remove a candidate from office. A convicted leader would be forced to leave office permanently.
Unlike federal proceedings, in Texas, an official would be suspended from their official duties as soon as the House votes to impeach. The governor may make a provisional appointment to fill the vacancy until a decision comes from the Senate. The impeached official would not be reinstated or removed — depending on the outcome — until the Senate votes on the articles of impeachment.
Although there are days left in this legislative session, the process can continue after lawmakers gavel out for sine die, the last day, on May 29.
Who can be impeached and why?
In Texas, any state officer or official who leads a state department or agency can be impeached. The Texas Constitution references “criminal activity” as cause for impeachment. Texas government code goes into more detail, citing wilful neglect of duty, breach of trust, incompetence and more.
One of the impeachable offenses the committee outlined includes alleged bribery, over a case in which Paxton is accused of helping Austin real estate investor Nate Paul — who in return employed a woman that Paxton is accused of having an affair.
But Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, could soon be one of the jurors tasked with voting on whether or not to remove him from office. Neither the state constitution nor the government code mentions conflicts of interest as a cause for recusing oneself from an impeachment proceeding.
Nexstar reached out to Sen. Paxton’s office for comment but has not heard back.
The attorney general has decried the House’s impeachment efforts against him as “illegitimate” and “corrupt.”
“That Committee has asked the Texas House of Representatives to use their unsubstantiated report to overturn the results of a free and fair election. This process provided no opportunity for rebuttal or due process…they rejected every attempt to seek a full accounting of the truth,” he said in a Thursday night statement. “It is a sad day for Texas as we witness the corrupt political establishment unite in this illegitimate attempt to overthrow the will of the people and disenfranchise the voters of our state.”
Articles of Impeachment against Paxton
Late Thursday night, lawmakers received a copy of 20 articles of impeachment. Chairman Andrew Murr advised he will put the articles to a vote on Saturday, May 27, at 1 p.m.
Favors for wealthy donor
Article 1 accuses Paxton of violating his duties by harming a charitable organization to help a wealthy donor.
The Attorney General is tasked with protecting charitable organizations when they face lawsuits. The article asserts Paxton improperly intervened in litigation involving Paxton donor Nate Paul and a charity called the Mitte Foundation.
“Paxton harmed the Mitte Foundation in an effort to benefit Paul,” the resolution states.
Article 2 concerns another favor lawmakers assert Paxton did for Paul. It explains Paxton issued a legal opinion to prevent the foreclosure of some of Paul’s properties, in contradiction of his employees’ original legal opinion.
Article 3 asserts Paxton issued illegal rulings to block public information requests concerning records within the Department of Public Safety related to Paul.
Article 4 again implicates Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, asserting Paxton misused his official power to improperly obtain private information and divulged records to Paul.
Article 5 Paxton of improperly hiring a special prosecutor to benefit Paul. Paxton hired attorney Brandon Cammack to investigate a complaint on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office and in service to Nate Paul. The committee asserts Paxton did not have the authority to hand-pick a special prosecutor to conduct state business and Cammack was unqualified to act as a prosecutor on behalf of the Attorney General.
Retaliating against whistleblowers
Article 6 accuses Paxton of taking “adverse personnel action” against employees who raised public ethical complaints against him.
“Paxton terminated employees of his office who made good faith reports of his unlawful actions to law enforcement authorities,” it reads, asserting his actions were in violation of state law protecting whistleblowers.
Article 7 accuses Paxton of misusing records to conduct a “sham investigation” into the whistleblower complaints and publish a report “containing false or misleading statements in Paxton’s defense.”
Article 8 accuses Paxton of concealing information from the public by entering into a settlement with the whistleblowers. It describes this action as a way to stall their wrongful termination lawsuit and prevent courts from discovering evidence.
This “deprived the electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general.” Paxton was re-elected last year in the midst of his legal troubles with whistleblowers.
Bribery and extramarital affair
Article 9 accuses Paxton of accepting a bribe from donor Nate Paul. It says Paul received favorable treatment from the Attorney General in exchange for Paul’s employment of a woman “with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.”
Article 10 accuses Paxton of accepting renovations to his home paid for by Nate Paul. In exchange, “Paul received favorable legal assistance.”
Obstruction of Justice
Article 11 accuses Paxton of using his influence as Attorney General to obstruct legal proceedings against him.
Paxton was indicted in 2015 for federal securities fraud – two charges of first and third-degree felonies. The impeachment articles assert Paxton “concealed the facts underlying his criminal charges from voters by causing protracted delay of the trial.”
Article 12 accuses Paxton of further obstruction of justice. It says Paxton benefited from a lawsuit made by Jeff Blackard, one of his campaign donors. That lawsuit “disrupted payment of the prosecutors in a criminal securities fraud case against Paxton.”
The ethics committee asserts the lawsuit thwarted the trial against Paxton, delayed the discovery of evidence, and again “deprived the electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general.”
Articles 13 and 14 accuse Paxton of making false statements in official records to mislead public officials. They assert Paxton made false statements to the State Securities Board to cover up his failure to register with them before selling stocks. Article 14 also asserts Paxton failed to disclose financial interests with the Texas Ethics Commission.
Article 15 asserts Paxton made false statements in a “lengthy written report” in response to whistleblower accusations.
Article 16 says Paxton “acted with others to conspire, or attempt to conspire, to commit acts described in one or more articles.”
Misappropriation of public resources
Article 17 says Paxton misused his official powers by causing employees to perform services for his benefit and the benefit of others – ostensibly using the time and thus the payment of state employees for personal favors.
Dereliction of Duty
Article 18 asserts these offenses amount to a violation of the Texas Constitution and his oaths of office
Unfitness for Office
Article 19 asserts these offenses amount to unfitness for office.
Abuse of Public Trust
Article 20 asserts Paxton “used, misused, or failed” to use his power for the benefit of the state, “thereby bringing the Attorney General into scandal and disrepute to the prejudice of public confidence.”
The articles end stating their “prayer,” or intention, is for Paxton to answer for these accusations in a trial in the Texas Senate “and judgments be conducted and issued in accordance with law and justice.”
This is a developing story, check back for updates. Capitol Correspondent Monica Madden will have a full report on KXAN at 5 p.m.