An overwhelming majority of Texas House members voted on Saturday to impeach the state’s Republican attorney general, Ken Paxton, on bribery and corruption allegations, including that he gave special treatment to a campaign donor who helped him remodel his house.
After a four-hour proceeding before a packed gallery, 121 House members voted for the move while 23 were against it, with two abstaining, representing the first time a Texas statewide officeholder has been impeached in more than a century. Nearly all Democrats voted to impeach and so did a majority of Republicans.
With the votes, Mr. Paxton was temporarily thrown out of office pending a trial, which has not yet been scheduled, in the Texas Senate.
Here’s what to know.
Who is Ken Paxton?
Before he became the attorney general in 2015, Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr. worked as a lawyer and state legislator, serving in both the State House and Senate. His wife, Angela Paxton, became a political force of her own and won a seat in the State Senate in 2018.
As the state’s top law enforcement officer, Mr. Paxton has styled himself as a champion of the social issues that drive Texas conservatives, effectively becoming the state’s chief culture-war litigator. His hard-charging style has led some Republican allies to distance themselves, even as voters have remained loyal.
Mr. Paxton has closely aligned himself with — and been endorsed by — former president Donald J. Trump, and he has used his office to challenge the results of the 2020 election. He has also mounted frequent legal challenges to actions by the Biden administration, and has been at the forefront of Republican-led states’ attempts to challenge the president’s efforts to ease some restrictions on migration on the US southern border.
Voters re-elected Mr. Paxton to a third term by a wide margin in November.
What accusations prompted the House investigation?
In 2020, several senior members of Mr. Paxton’s staff wrote a letter urging an investigation into the actions of their boss. The aides accused Mr. Paxton of using his office to serve the interests of Nate Paul, who was a friend of the attorney general and a political donor.
Mr. Paul, a wealthy real estate investor in Austin, had contacted Mr. Paxton after his home and offices were raided by federal agents in 2019. Paxton took the unusual step, against his staff’s vociferous objections, of authorizing a state investigation of the FBI’s actions. He appointed an outside lawyer who referred to himself as a special prosecutor to run it, though investigators for the House committee that conducted the inquiry into Mr. Paxton said that he had no prosecutorial experience. FBI officials have not commented on their investigation.
At the time, Mr. Paxton said in a statement that he had “never been motivated by a desire to protect a political donor or to abuse this office, nor will I ever.”
In their 2020 letter, Mr. Paxton’s aides said that he had committed bribery, abuse of office and other “potential criminal offenses.” Four of the aides also brought their concerns to the FBI and Texas Rangers.
According to legal filings in the case, the four aides had also relayed their concerns to the attorney general’s office; several weeks later, they were all fired. The aides filed suit, accusing Mr. Paxton of retaliating against them.
As the case proceeded, Mr. Paxton’s office produced a 374-page report that concluded, “AG Paxton committed no crime.” He also challenged the suit, but a Texas court of appeals ruled against him. In February, Mr. Paxton agreed to pay $3.3 million in a settlement with the four former senior aids.
How did that lead to the impeachment proceedings?
Questions over how to pay the settlement prompted more investigation into the 2020 allegations.
Mr. Paxton asked the Texas Legislature for the funds to pay the $3.3 million. Dade Phelan, the Republican House speaker, who is seen as a traditional conservative, did not support the use of state money. A House investigation into the allegations was begun in order to gather information about the funding request, Mr. Phelan’s spokeswoman said.
Many of the investigators’ findings about Mr. Paxton were already known publicly, from the allegations made in the aides’ lawsuit. But the House committee vote on Thursday rendered the first official judgment on those allegations: They were, legislators said, enough to begin the process of removing Mr. Paxton from office.
What do the articles of impeachment say?
The committee filed 20 articles of impeachment against Mr. Paxton on Thursday. As they were being handed out around the House chamber, Andrew Murr, the chairman of the committee and a Republican, said that they described “grave offenses.”
The articles charge Mr. Paxton with a litany of abuses, including taking bribes, disregarding his official duties, obstructing justice in a separate securities fraud case pending against him, making false statements on official documents and reports and abusing the public trust.
Many of the charges related to the various ways that Mr. Paxton had used his office to benefit Mr. Paul, the committee said, and to his firing of those in the office who had spoken up against his actions.
The articles also accuse Mr. Paxton of benefiting “from Nate Paul’s employment of a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair,” and of intervening in a lawsuit filed against Mr. Paul’s companies by the Roy F. and Joann Cole Mitte Foundation, an Austin nonprofit group.
What other legal issues are confronting Mr. Paxton?
A federal investigation, opened as a result of the aides’ complaints about corruption and retaliation, has not yet resulted in any charges.
Mr. Paxton has been under criminal indictment for most of his tenure as the state’s attorney general.
In 2015, his first year in that office, Mr. Paxton was charged with felony related to securities fraud and booked in a county jail outside Dallas. The charges stemmed from accusations that Mr. Paxton had misled investors and clients — for example, by failing to tell investors that he would make a commission on their investment — while doing securities work in the years before he became attorney general.
He has denied wrongdoing in the case, which has yet to go to trial.
The articles of impeachment accused the attorney general of obstruction of justice in that case, alleging that a lawsuit, which was filed by a donor to Mr. Paxton’s campaign, effectively delayed the trial.
What happens next?
Mr. Paxton’s fate now rests with the Texas Senate, where he has more allies, including his wife, a Republican. She has not said whether she will recuse herself.
If Ms. Paxton does not recuse himself and all 12 Democratic senators vote to permanently remove Mr. Paxton, nine of the body’s 19 Republicans will need to vote to convict to reach the necessary two-thirds majority. If the Senate votes to acquit, Mr. Paxton will immediately resume his role as attorney general.
In a statement released immediately after the House voted to impeach him, Mr. Paxton called the process “illegal, unethical and profoundly unjust,” saying that he looked forward to a quick resolution in the Senate.
The Senate proceedings could well be delayed until after the regular legislative session, which ends on Monday. The Senate could reconcile to hold the trial afterward, though the timing remains highly uncertain.
A lawyer from Mr. Paxton’s office, Christopher Hilton, has said that the committee’s process in issuing the articles of impeachment was “completely lacking” and that the issues raised were fully aired during Mr. Paxton’s successful re-election campaign last year.
In what appeared to be a preview of a possible legal challenge to the proceedings, Mr. Hilton also said that Texas law allowed impeachment only for conduct since the preceding election. Most of the allegations in the articles of impeachment involve conduct that occurred before then.
Reporting was contributed by Manny Fernandez, Miriam Jordan, Edgar Sandoval and Rick Rojas.