The investigation of Texas’s top prosecutor reveals Republican divisions.
Texas’s far-right attorney general Ken Paxton has been beset with legal troubles for the better part of a decade. But until Wednesday, it didn’t seem as though they would catch up with him. Now that they have, it has set up a heated intraparty fight.
A Texas House panel, which launched a secret investigation into Paxton in March, announced in a hearing that the state’s top prosecutor likely violated many state laws, abused the power of his office for his own gain, and squandered office funds. Lawmakers now have the option of pursuing his impeachment and removal from office, which they could exercise in the coming days before the legislative session ends.
The announcement came after Paxton — who counts former President Donald Trump as an ally and is known for leading splashy multi-state lawsuits against the Biden administration — called on Speaker Dade Phelan, more of a traditional conservative, to resign on the grounds that he was “in an obviously intoxicated state” while presiding over the House floor. Paxton was referencing a viral video posted by a far-right former lawmaker of Phelan slurring his words. Phelan has responded that Paxton is merely trying to distract from the House investigation.
It’s an unusually public display of intraparty rancor in a state as red as Texas, where Republicans have trifecta control. Now, even if Paxton isn’t impeached, the drama seems likely to surface broader divisions in the party and deal a blow to the far-right wing he represents.
“There’s an interesting reckoning going on in the Republican Party right now between the far right and the less extreme the members of the party,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy nonprofit that has called for Paxton’s resignation and impeachment.
Much of the misconduct alleged by the House panel was already known to the public. But the notion that the House dedicated resources to investigating Paxton — and listed a litany of crimes, including felonies, that he had likely committed — suggests that he has lost the backing of at least some Republican lawmakers. It comes after Paxton has publicly pressured them to pay $3.3 million in taxpayer funds to settle a whistleblower lawsuit against him, in which four former high-ranking officials in his office claim they were unlawfully fired in retaliation for accusing him of accepting bribes and other ethics violations.