GOP-controlled Texas House impeaches Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, triggering suspension

Stephanie Lucie, right, and Lynn Tozser, left, protest in favor of impeaching Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at the Texas Capitol on Saturday, May 27, 2023, in Austin, Texas.
| Photo Credit: AP

Texas’ Republican-led House of Representatives impeached State Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday on articles including bribery and abuse of public trust, a sudden, historic rebuke of a GOP official who rose to be a star of the conservative legal movement despite years of scandal and alleged crimes.

Impeachment triggers Mr. Paxton’s immediate suspension from office pending the outcome of a trial in the State Senate and empowers Republican Governor Greg Abbott to appoint someone else as Texas’ top lawyer in the interim.

The 121-23 vote constitutes an abrupt downfall for one of the GOP’s most prominent legal combatants, who in 2020 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn U.S. President Joe Biden’s electoral defeat of Donald Trump. It makes Mr. Paxton only the third sitting official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to have been impeached.

Mr. Paxton, 60, decried the move moments after scores of his fellow partisans voted for impeachment, and his office pointed to internal reports that found no wrongdoing.

“The ugly spectacle in the Texas House today confirmed the outrageous impeachment plot against me was never meant to be fair or just,” Mr. Paxton said. “It was a politically motivated sham from the beginning.”

Mr. Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, though he has yet to stand trial. His party had long taken a muted stance on the allegations — but that changed this week as 60 of the House’s 85 Republicans, including Speaker Dade Phelan, voted to impeach.

“No one person should be above the law, least not the top law officer of the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller, a Republican member of the committee that investigated Mr. Paxton, said in opening statements. Another Republican committee member, Rep. Charlie Geren, said without elaborating that Mr. Paxton had called some lawmakers before the vote and threatened them with political “consequences.”

Lawmakers allied with Mr. Paxton tried to discredit the investigation by noting that hired investigators, not panel members, interviewed witnesses. They also said several of the investigators had voted in Democratic primaries, tainting the impeachment, and that they had too little time to review evidence.

“I perceive it could be political weaponization,” Rep. Tony Tinderholt, one of the House’s most conservative members, said before the vote. Republican Rep. John Smithee compared the proceeding to “a Saturday mob out for an afternoon lynching.”

Mr. Paxton is automatically suspended from office pending the Senate trial. Final removal would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Mr. Paxton’s wife’s, Angela, is a member.

Representatives of the governor, who lauded Mr. Paxton while swearing him in for a third term in January, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on a temporary replacement.

Before the vote Saturday, Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz came to Mr. Paxton’s defense, with the senator calling the impeachment process “a travesty” and saying the attorney general’s legal troubles should be left to the courts.

“Free Ken Paxton,” Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social, warning that if House Republicans proceeded with impeachment, “I will fight you.”

In one sense, Mr. Paxton’s political peril arrived with dizzying speed: The House committee’s investigation came to light Tuesday, and by Thursday lawmakers issued 20 articles of impeachment.

But to Mr. Paxton’s detractors, the rebuke was years overdue.

In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law, and a year later he was indicted on securities fraud charges in his hometown near Dallas, accused of defrauding investors in a tech startup. He pleaded not guilty to two felony counts carrying a potential sentence of five to 99 years.

He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was under investigation by Mr. Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. An additional $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton later hired to a high-ranking job but was soon fired after displaying child pornography in a meeting. In 2020, Mr. Paxton intervened in a Colorado mountain community where a Texas donor and college classmate faced removal from his lakeside home under coronavirus orders.

But what ultimately unleased the impeachment push was Mr. Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In 2020, eight top aides told the FBI they were concerned Mr. Paxton was misusing his office to help Mr. Paul over the developer’s unproven claims that an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million of his properties was afoot. The FBI searched Mr. Paul’s home in 2019, but he has not been charged and denies wrongdoing. Paxton also told staff members he had an affair with a woman who, it later emerged, worked for Mr. Paul.

The impeachment accuses Mr. Paxton of attempting to interfere in foreclosure lawsuits and issuing legal opinions to benefit Mr. Paul. Its bribery charges allege that Mr. Paul employed the woman with whom Mr. Paxton had an affair in exchange for legal help and that he paid for expensive renovations to the attorney general’s home.

A senior lawyer for Mr. Paxton’s office, Chris Hilton, said Friday that the attorney general paid for all repairs and renovations.

Other charges, including lying to investigators, date back to Mr. Paxton’s still-pending securities fraud indictment.

Four of the aides who reported Mr. Paxton to the FBI later sued under Texas’ whistleblower law, and in February he agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million. The House committee said it was Mr. Paxton seeking legislative approval for the payout that sparked their probe.

“But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment,” the panel said.

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Dems Have Awesome Special Election Night. Please, Republicans, Talk More About Hunter Biden’s Peenerwanger.

There were a bunch of special elections yesterday (that’s what we in the business call a real “grabber” of a lede), and a bunch of Democratic candidates won by larger margins than Joe Biden’s presidential results in 2020. Also, yesterday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court primary set up the chance to flip that court to Democratic control for the first time in forever. So huzzay!

Let’s hop right in!

Virginia: Meet Rep.-Elect Jennifer McClellan!

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan will be headed to Congress after winning the special election for Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District. She’ll take the seat previously held by Rep. Donald McEachin, who won re-election to the House last November but died of cancer later that month.

McClellan was expected to win, what with the Fourth being a safe Democratic district by registration. But she didn’t just win against her Republican opponent, Leon Benjamin, she stomped him. With 95 percent of the vote in, McClellan won with 74.1 percent of the vote to Benjamin’s 25.9 percent. (The margin was 68-32 when the AP called the race last night.)

Benjamin also lost to McEachin in November, although by a slightly closer 30-point margin, 64.9 percent to 34.9 percent.

With her win, McClellan becomes Virginia’s first Black woman in Congress, which seems like a first that should no longer be remarkable until I remember that I live in friggin’ Idaho, which will likely elect its first Black member of Congress sometime around the time Idaho also has state-run socialized medicine. McClellan also becomes the 150th woman in the House, and the 28th Black woman, both of which are also records. And for you stats nerds, once she’s sworn in, she’ll finally bring the House to its full 435 members, at least until June 1, when David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island) resigns to lead the Rhode Island Foundation.

McClellan is a veteran state lawmaker, having served 10 years in the House of Delegates (Virginia is so cute) before succeeding McEachin in the state Senate in 2016, when he was elected to Congress. She raised far more money than Benjamin did, and campaigned on her record of support for abortion rights, voting rights, and addressing climate change.

Benjamin, on the other hand, seems not to have benefited in either of his recent elections from a September fundamentalist event in Idaho where he blew a shofar to cast out all the demons in the Pacific Northwest and North America:

There’s about to be an anointing, there’s about to be a breakthrough, there’s going to be a binding of demons, a binding of witches and warlocks. You’re about to see the power of God released through the trumpet. […]

Your shout is going to shift America into winning elections that they thought they could steal. They’re trying to steal [it] again, but the trumpet is going to confuse the electoral process, it’s going to confuse the thieves, it’s going to confuse the Dominion machines; they’re gonna break up, fire is going to hit them, and people who they thought were gonna lose are going to win!

Either God is actually pretty bad at confounding election thieves, or there weren’t any to confound in the first place. OK, maybe there’s no God either, but let’s not get carried away here.

After winning the primary in December, McClellan said she didn’t mind that if she won, she’d be coming to Congress as part of the minority party:

I spent 14 years in the minority party in the Virginia Legislature and still was able to get over 300 bills passed. […] I think it’s a natural progression of the work that I have been doing already.”

And in fact at her victory party last night, McClellan pointed out that she had passed another two bills in the state Senate on Election Day. We like the cut of her jib!

Kentucky: Is A Dem Winning 77 Percent Of The Vote Good?

In Kentucky, Democrat Cassie Chambers Armstrong won a seat in the state Senate, with 77 percent of the vote, filling a seat that had previously been held by Democrat Morgan McGarvey, who won election to Congress in November. McGarvey had served for a decade in the state Senate.

Armstong was a member of the Louisville Metro Council before running for the state Senate. She beat Republican Misty Glin, who also lost a November bid for a seat on the Jefferson County School Board. Armstrong’s election won’t affect the balance of power in Kentucky’s Senate, where Republicans will still hold a 30 seat to 7 seat majority once she’s sworn in.

Armstrong promised in a statement to do all she could to rein in GOP shenanigans in the state Lege:

Every day we see headlines about the majority in the General Assembly attacking LGBTQ youth, continuing to starve our public schools and the children that rely on them, and writing laws that put women’s lives at risk. There is an urgent need for change in Frankfort, and I’m grateful that the voters of the 19th Senate District have given me the chance to fight for them.

Armstrong, who is a law prof at University of Louisville, will represent a heavily Democratic district. Her victory margin yesterday was actually higher than its 60 percent voter registration, and than the district’s 66 percent vote for Joe Biden in 2020. Her victory is not expected to help at all in my chronic habit of confusing Kentucky and Tennessee.

New Hampshire: Chuck Grassie Re-elected To State House, Will Not Tweet Inscrutable Nonsense

In a run-off special election, incumbent Democratic New Hampshire state Rep. Chuck Grassie, with an i-e,won re-election in a rematch with Republican David Walker. The re-do election was necessary because the two had actually tied with 970 votes each in November’s general election. New Hampshire is the one with the crazy 400 House members, and during the early counting in November, it looked as if the Grassie-Walker race might decide control of the state House. But now that things have settled down, Republicans will still hold a narrow majority of 201 seats to Democrats’ 199, including Grassie.

“My first priority tonight is to relax,” Grassie said at the end of a campaign that was extended three months after the tie in November. “I will be going to Concord tomorrow morning to meet with my fellow Democrats that I will be working with. Then, I plan on getting to work, getting caught up on what I have missed and looking forward.”

Despite the similarity of his name to the Republican US Senator from Iowa, there’s no evidence that Rep. Grassie has ever hit a deer with his car and assumed it was dead.

[Politico / CNN / Joe.My.God / Foster’s Daily Democrat / Courier Journal]

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