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Ken Paxton impeached by Texas House

The Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives on Saturday overwhelmingly voted to impeach Republican state Attorney General Ken Paxton, with even many staunch conservatives voting for impeachment.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — In a resoundingly bipartisan vote, the Texas House of Representatives on Saturday voted to impeach the state’s staunchly conservative attorney general, Ken Paxton.

Voting 121-23, the Republican-controlled House sided with a recommendation from the Texas House Committee on General Investigating to impeach Paxton for a range of alleged offenses, including abuse of office, embezzlement and accepting bribes. Two House members voted present. Republicans hold a majority in the 149-member Texas House of Representatives, and even many GOP members voted yes.

"We will not tolerate corruption, bribery, abuse of office, retaliation and all the related charges that have been presented to you," said Representative Andrew Murr, a Republican from Junction, Texas, who brought the articles of impeachment against Paxton.

Murr, as chairman of the House Committee on General Investigating, spearheaded an inquiry into alleged crimes committed by Paxton. That investigation was kept under wraps and referred to as "Matter A" until it became clear last week that the committee was investigating the attorney general, setting off a once-in-a-generation political drama in Texas.

At the impeachment hearing on Saturday, Murr told his fellow House members that they are acting as a grand jury, considering if the evidence he helped bring before them was worthy of indictment.

"You are simply deciding that there are sufficient facts to go to trial. Members, I respectfully ask that you approve these articles. Send this to trial," Murr said moments before the historic vote.

In a post to Twitter, Paxton thanked supporters of his for speaking against the impeachment resolution and called it outrageous.

“Texas voters now know that Speaker Phelan and the corrupt politicians he controls are more focused on political retribution against conservatives than the welfare of the people,” said Paxton.

The committee, which is comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats, filed 20 articles of impeachment against the attorney general on Thursday. Their recommendation followed a committee meeting Wednesday, where a team of experienced investigators hired by the committee presented their findings on a probe they conducted looking into crimes Paxton is alleged to have committed throughout his tenure as attorney general.

Earlier this year, Paxton had asked the Texas Legislature to pay for a $3.3 million settlement he'd reached with a group of former employees, who claimed Paxton retaliated against them after they reported him to the FBI for accepting bribes and using his office to benefit a friend and campaign donor who was also under investigation. Had the Legislature approved that settlement, the money would have come from Texas taxpayers.

In a communication with lawmakers on Friday, the General Investigating Committee argued Paxton had forced the committee's hand by asking lawmakers to foot the bill for his own alleged misdeeds.

"We cannot over-emphasize the fact that, but for Paxton's own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment by the House," Murr wrote in that memo.

The 2023 Texas Legislative session has seen moments of hyperpartisanship — but the vote to impeach Paxton was no such moment. Among those voting for impeachment were staunch conservatives, including members of the Texas Freedom Caucus like representatives Matt Shaheen, Briscoe Cain and Ellen Troxclair.

Representative David Spiller, a Jacksboro Republican and member of the General Investigating Committee, praised Paxton for his job as the state's top law enforcement official but said that he is not above the law.

"We each took an oath of office. Attorney General Paxton took an oath of office," said Spiller. "He violated that oath. He put his interests of himself above the laws of the state of Texas."

Opponents of the impeachment vote argued that they did not receive ample time to consider the facts of the case before the vote. Additionally, members urging a vote against the measure called the validity of the evidence into question — though after years of legal headaches for Paxton, few seemed willing to give a wholehearted argument for his innocence.

“What you've heard and what's in this report is not one shred of evidence,” said Republican Representative John Smithee of Amarillo. “It is hearsay within hearsay within hearsay. No prosecutor would ever try to get a grand jury indictment based solely on hearsay."

Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan, a Republican from Beaumont who often abstains from votes due to his position, voted in favor of the impeachment measure. Earlier the in the week, Paxton called for Phelan’s resignation, accusing him of being intoxicated while presiding over the chamber. A spokesperson for Phelan described these attacks on the speaker as a "last ditch effort to save face."

A public official impeached by the Texas House is immediately suspended from office pending a trial in the Texas Senate. By press time, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott had not indicated who will take Paxton's place while he awaits a final decision from the Senate.

While a simple majority was required to impeach, two-thirds of Senators are needed to permanently remove Paxton from office. Those senators will likely also demand a higher burden of proof for the allegations. Further complicating the Senate's role in this process is the fact that Ken Paxton’s wife, Angela, serves as a member of the upper chamber. She has not made a statement on the impeachment of her husband, and it remains unclear whether she will recuse herself.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate, has not commented on Paxton's impeachment and the timeline of the pending trial. In an interview with a Dallas television station this week, he promised to hold a "responsible" hearing.

Meanwhile, national figures within the Republican Party have come to Paxton's defense — including former President Donald Trump, who called the impeachment proceedings "election interference" and "very unfair" and promised to "fight" lawmakers who voted for impeachment.

Paxton is now only the third public official in Texas history to be impeached by the state House. The Legislature impeached Governor James Ferguson in 1917 and Duval County District Judge O.P. Carrillo in 1975, according to the Texas Tribune.

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