AUSTIN, Texas - Attorney General Ken Paxton has been impeached by the Texas House of Representatives.
In a historic vote at the Capitol, the House voted 121-23 to impeach the Texas attorney general after hours of debate, discussion and deliberation on Saturday, May 27. Two members voted Present Not Voting, and there were three members absent.
Paxton is the third elected official in Texas history to be successfully impeached, following Governor James Ferguson in 1917 and Judge O. P. Carillo in 1975.
The impeachment vote immediately suspends Paxton from his office. Paxton now awaits a Senate trial, where two-thirds of the vote would initiate a permanent removal from office. If found guilty by the Senate, Paxton will be barred from holding office in Texas.
It is now up to Governor Greg Abbott to appoint an interim replacement.
Paxton responded to the impeachment vote in a statement posted on Twitter. Paxton called the vote "illegal, unethical, and profoundly unjust" as well as an "ugly spectacle" that "confirmed the outrageous impeachment plot" against him, and that he "look(s) forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate" where he has "full confidence the process will be fair and just."
The denial of any wrongdoing did not surprise former House Democratic Caucus Chairman Christ Turner.
"That's been his M.O. So I'm not surprised he's continuing to do that. I wish he would tell us his side of the story instead of just denying everything. If he has facts, I wish he would present those facts. But just playing the victim and attacking the investigators in the House, I don't think is a good strategy. But he'll get his opportunity to make his case in the Senate."
20 Articles of Impeachment were filed Thursday by the Republican-majority bipartisan House Committee on General Investigating, citing alleged bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust, among other charges.
Paxton responded to these filings Friday in a press conference, calling the situation politically motivated and asking supporters to join him in front of the Capitol to protest the "illegal" impeachment proceedings.
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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.
Representatives deliberate and react to impeachment vote
"It was tough," state representative Justin Holland of Rockwall said. "It was a tough day."
The lawmaker from Rockwall was among the Republicans who voted for impeachment.
"I just thought what I did today was the right thing to do," Holland said. "After reviewing the 20 articles of impeachment and the abuses of power and obstruction of justice and, in some cases, violation of laws, I just felt like, over party, it's the right thing to do."
Some lawmakers voiced concern about the process and that Paxton did not testify before the House General Investigating Committee.
"I think there are holes here," said Houston Democrat Harold Dutton.
During a period for questions and answers, Dutton spoke about Grand Jury procedures and what he considered was a lack of due process. He ended up voting Present Not Voting.
"Well, I didn't think that there was really enough in the way of evidence persuading me that we needed to do this," Dutton said.
Dutton also thought about the political implications of not impeaching Paxton.
"I thought about, well wait a minute: why should we help them get rid of Paxton? We ought to leave him there, so then he drags down the whole ticket at the next election, and we have a possibility to make some changes at the top," said a smiling Dutton.
House committee inquiry into Ken Paxton
The House Committee on General Investigating, made up of three Republicans and two Democrats, unanimously voted to recommend impeaching Paxton on Thursday, May 25.
The committee's inquiry into the attorney general began in March 2023 after Paxton and his agency asked the Legislature for $3.3 million of public funds to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by whistleblowers who were fired from the Office of the Attorney General.
The former employees accused Paxton of several inappropriate actions which included helping a political donor get information about a federal investigation against him and help that donor with a lawsuit from a charitable organization. The people who made the allegations did not testify, but met with the committee's investigative team.
On Wednesday, May 24, the committee listened as a team of independent lawyers investigating Paxton detailed years of alleged bad behavior they say could amount to a host of crimes, like securities fraud, gifts to a public servant and abuse of official capacity.
The investigators and lack of sworn committee testimony from the witnesses was a problem for several lawmakers during Saturday's impeachment proceedings. Before the vote, those in opposition claimed they were not defending the attorney general, but did not support the process.
"I feel like its rushed," said Republican state representative Tony Tinderholt from Arlington during debate. "I perceived that it could be political weaponization. I'm asking, why were we given 48 hours and in 1975 they were given three weeks," referencing the last time an elected official was impeached in Texas.
Republican state representative John Smithee of Amarillo suggested extending the process until later this year in order to call witnesses, including Paxton himself.
"And the committee can do that after we have adjourned the session," Smithee said. "We can be called back for a one-day hearing to consider a real record that gives us a sufficient basis."
Representative Andrew Murr, chairman of the General Investigating Committee, defended their work.
"We will not tolerate corruption, bribery, abuse of office, retaliation and all of the related charges that have been presented to you," Murr told House members during his closing comments.
Ken Paxton and Nate Paul
Paxton's relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul received heightened attention during the House debate and discussion.
In 2020, top Paxton aides told the FBI they were concerned that Paxton was misusing his office to help Paul over the developer's unproven claims that an elaborate conspiracy to steal $200 million of his properties was afoot.
The FBI searched Paul's home in 2019, but the developer has not been charged and denies wrongdoing.
Paxton also told his staff members that he had an affair with a woman who worked for Paul.
Republicans notably quiet since impeachment announcement
Many top state Republicans have remained notably quiet since allegations against Paxton came to light.
Governor Abbott, who lauded Paxton while swearing him in for a third term in January, has yet to comment on the impeachment proceedings. The governor spoke at a Memorial Day service in the House chamber hours before the impeachment proceedings began, but did not comment to journalists before leaving.
In spite of Paxton's call for support, only a small handful of supporters showed up on the Capitol grounds during impeachment proceedings.
Some Texas Republicans and nationally recognized conservatives voiced their support for the attorney general.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz took to Twitter on Saturday, calling the impeachment proceedings a "travesty."
Former President Donald Trump took to the Trump-owned social media platform TRUTH Social on Saturday, calling Paxton "one of the most hard working and effective Attorney Generals in the United States."
The House vote suspends Paxton from the office of attorney general. He now awaits a Senate trial.
If at least two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor of impeachment, Paxton would be officially removed from his office.
Governor Abbott will appoint an interim attorney general in Paxton's absence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.