Texas lawmakers move to impeach state’s controversial attorney general

Bribery, dereliction of duty, obstruction of justice. Those are just some of the allegations against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after a months-long investigation led by members of his own party. The Republican has faced years of scandal but now he faces 20 articles of impeachment in the final days of the legislative session. Ali Rogin discussed the latest with Sergio Martínez-Beltrán.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Bribery, dereliction of duty, obstruction of justice, those are just some of the allegations against Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after a months-long investigation led by members of his own party.

    It's one of several stories around the country that Ali Rogin is following tonight.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Geoff, Republican Ken Paxton has faced years of scandal, but now he faces 20 articles of impeachment in the final days of the legislative session.

    The bipartisan members of the House committee leading the investigation voted unanimously to recommend the impeachment charges late yesterday.

  • State Rep. Andrew Murr (R-TX):

    The chair moves that the committee adopt the articles of impeachment against Warren Kenneth Paxton, attorney general of the state of Texas.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Paxton has denied any wrongdoing and accused the committee of relying on hearsay and gossip and using — quote — "their unsubstantiated report to overturn the results of a free and fair election."

    Sergio Martinez-Beltran is a politics and government reporter for NPR's The Texas Newsroom and joins me now.

    Sergio, thank you so much.

    Remind us all, what is Attorney General Paxton accused of doing?

  • Sergio Martinez-Beltran, The Texas Newsroom:

    The list is really long.

    This House investigative panel came out with a report, and they also drafted 20 articles of impeachment. Those articles include constitutional bribery, abuse of official capacity, misuse of official information, and also retaliation against former employees who reported him in 2020 to the FBI because of alleged misdeeds related to an Austin real estate investor who was being investigated by the FBI himself.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And, Sergio, these allegations have followed him for years. You just mentioned that the FBI has been investigating him.

    Why is this Republican-led legislature moving now to pursue impeachment against him?

  • Sergio Martinez-Beltran:

    That's a great question.

    This Republican legislature has stand by Paxton all these years, but then it's just now that we're seeing some Republicans starting to push back and question, honestly, Paxton's ability to serve the state.

    I think the time — the timing here, it's clear, right? These allegations that Paxton fired four former employees for reporting him to the FBI ended up in a lawsuit. And there's a settlement agreement, a $3.3 million settlement agreement, that the Texas legislature is responsible to fund.

    And Republican lawmakers don't want to pay for that money. They say it's too much. And they also say that the taxpayers will be paying for Paxton's alleged wrongdoings, and that that's not fair. And so that's where we are.

    The House investigative committee decided to hire four investigators to look into the settlement and the evidence around this settlement. And they have decided that it was all Paxton's wrongdoings, and that maybe the legislature should not pay for it.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Now, Paxton's defenders say that this settlement is just a smokescreen and there's really something else going on here.

    What does your reporting indicate?

  • Sergio Martinez-Beltran:

    I think that timing here is great.

    We know that House Speaker Dade Phelan, he doesn't have the best relationship with Ken Paxton. And a lot of Republicans, grassroots Republicans, in the state are truly upset at House Speaker Dade Phelan, and because they say he has not supported the priorities of the Republican Party.

    Paxton, a few days ago, before the House committee came out with this — with this notice of impeachment, had accused Phelan of being drunk on the House floor, without any proof, just a video that was heavily edited.

    So I think this is where we are, right? Paxton seems to have come out against Phelan ahead of what he knew was going to be a report that was not going to be favorable to him.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Sergio, for those of us who haven't been following Texas politics as closely as you, how big a deal is this?

  • Sergio Martinez-Beltran:

    Listen, this is big. This is a big deal. Only two public officials in Texas have been impeached.

    In fact, the last one was in the 1970s. So this is huge. I mean, also, Ken Paxton is beloved by Republican lawmakers in the state of Texas, but also on a national level. He has been fighting with the Biden and Obama administrations over federal spending, immigration, abortion medication.

    In 2020, he tried to overturn the results of that presidential election. So he's a big figure within the Republican Party. And we know that, if the House were to impeach tomorrow, automatically, Ken Paxton would be suspended from his duties, pending a Senate trial and a decision in that chamber.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And, as you mentioned, the House is expected to vote on this impeachment tomorrow.

    What do you expect the outcome to be? Are there the votes there?

  • Sergio Martinez-Beltran:

    The interesting thing here is that the House only needs a simple majority to impeach or to move to impeach Paxton.

    And we know there's over 60 Democrats, and we also know that there are Republicans who have already said they are going to impeach Paxton. So, from what I'm hearing and with my sourcing, it seems like Republicans, particularly this House committee who is the one moving and asking the full House to vote to impeach, they have the votes to move forward with this historic decision.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Fascinating stuff.

    Sergio Martinez-Beltran with NPR's The Texas Newsroom, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Sergio Martinez-Beltran:

    Thanks for having me.

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