Attorney General Ken Paxton and House Speaker Dade Phelan, two of Texas’ most powerful Republican leaders, are at odds.
On Tuesday afternoon, Paxton called on Phelan to resign, accusing him of performing his duties while drunk, a reference to a viral video that appears to show Phelan slurring his words during a late night session.
Shortly after that call for Phelan’s resignation, word came that a House committee had earlier subpoenaed records from Paxton’s office. The subpoena is part of an inquiry into a request from Paxton for $3.3 million in state funds to settle corruption allegations brought against him by former aides.
This intra-party battle between Phelan and Paxton mushroomed into a spectacle seldom seen at the Capitol yesterday, as investigators for the House General investigating Committee detailed accusation after accusation against Paxton, concluding that the attorney general broke several state laws, abused and misused his office to help a donor and retaliated against staff whistleblowers. This committee has the power to recommend censure or impeachment.
So what comes next?
Lauren McGaughy, who covers state politics for the Dallas Morning News, has been following Paxton’s legal troubles for years.
“Paxton has encountered a lot of legal problems during his tenure as attorney general, and some of them were brought up during this hearing yesterday,” she said. “These were years old bribery allegations that were investigated and dropped that were dredged up during this House ethics probe. What’s different this time around is this is an intra-party feud. It’s Republican against Republican.”
McGaughy said courts have not taken a close look at most of the allegations against Paxton — either because charges are still pending or because they were thrown out.
“But the Texas House and Senate don’t need to have a court to tell them to recommend censure or impeachment,” she said. “They can take those actions on their own. And that’s kind of what everyone has holding their breath for now.”
McGaughy said the time table for such an action is unclear, especially with the session ending on Monday, May 29.
“The chairman of the committee is staying mum for now, although we could get more news at any point here that the House could take up impeachment at any point,” she said. “They would not need a recommendation from the committee to do so. But as long as the House votes, a majority of its members vote for impeachment before they adjourn sine die on Monday, that would force the Senate to at some point take up this issue and have a trial on whether to formally and finally impeach and therefore throw out Mr. Paxton from office.”
McGaughy said some at the Capitol are framing Paxton’s allegations against Phelan as an attempt to distract from the probe into Paxton’s own conduct.
“The probe into Paxton was pending for months, so he must have known some news was about to break,” she said. “That said, the attorney general has asked the same investigating committee in the House to look at whether the speaker was intoxicated or has been intoxicated. They could do that as well. But we haven’t gotten any indication that they intend to or will.”
A House ethics probe is not the only investigation into Paxton, either, McGaughy said.
“The FBI is reportedly investigating the same allegations that this House ethics probe talked about this week. There haven’t been any charges brought. And Mr. Paxton says that he’s completely innocent of all of (the accusations),” she said. “This all swirls around a real estate investor here in Austin named Nate Paul. The FBI is looking into whether Paxton abused his power as attorney general to help Nate Paul with a number of matters that were pending before his agency in exchange for various things, including an alleged kitchen remodel and some other issues. So even if the House and Senate don’t censure or impeach him, you know, there’s still this ongoing federal investigation and we’ll have to see where it goes.”