Investigation into and Impeachment of Ken Paxton: Unveiling the Spark

Attempts to portray the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton as a political move have been refuted, as there is bipartisan agreement on the events preceding it. This significant moment in Texas history was not the result of mere allegations, but rather a 10-page court document revealing a $3.3 million settlement Paxton agreed to award four whistleblowers who were formerly employed in the Office of the Attorney General. These attorneys witnessed what they believed to be Paxton’s misuse of his office in favor of Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer who had made campaign donations.

The whistleblowers reported Paxton’s alleged misconduct to law enforcement, but instead of addressing the issue, Paxton retaliated by slandering them, reassigning or firing them. All of these events unfolded in 2020, leading to a settlement between the whistleblowers and Paxton in 2023. In February of that year, Paxton faced a House subcommittee responsible for making budget decisions pertaining to his agency. Aware of the large sum requested for the settlement, committee members questioned Paxton to ascertain whether using taxpayer money for this purpose was justified.

State Representative Jarvis Johnson, a Democrat from Houston, sought clarification on whether the case was against the state of Texas or Gen. Paxton himself. Surprisingly, it was Paxton’s chief of litigation, Chris Hilton, who provided the response, stating that any whistleblower employment case is against the state of Texas, as the law stipulates. Johnson then directly asked Paxton if he would be willing to pay for the settlement from his campaign account if it was not approved by the state. Once again, Hilton provided the answer, stating that under the provisions of the statute, individuals are not held liable in whistleblower cases, and the settlement itself did not imply any admission of fault or wrongdoing.

Given the skepticism surrounding the use of public funds, the General Investigating Committee of the Texas House discreetly employed a team of five former prosecutors and detectives to assess the merit of the lawsuit. If it was found to be frivolous, lawmakers may have been less inclined to support the settlement. During a committee hearing held in late May, Chief Counsel Erin Epley revealed that the team’s purpose was to follow the evidence and determine whether there was substance to the allegations. Over the course of several weeks, the team interviewed the whistleblowers and other employees of the Office of the Attorney General, conducting their investigation in secrecy until the final days of the legislative session.

The revelations emerged during a three-hour hearing on May 24, where the investigative team presented compelling evidence supporting the validity of the lawsuit and demonstrating Paxton’s misuse of his office. Committee Chair Andrew Murr, a Republican State Representative, inquired about Paxton’s alleged statement that he did not want to utilize his office to assist law enforcement – an assertion relayed by one of Paxton’s employees. The investigator confirmed the accuracy of this claim, leaving little room for doubt. Committee Co-Chair Ann Johnson, a Democrat representing Houston, was even more unequivocal, characterizing the Office of the Attorney General as having been effectively hijacked by Nate Paul through Paxton.

Following this momentous hearing, the full Texas House impeached Paxton by a bipartisan vote, with 60 members from Paxton’s own party voting in favor. A memo issued by the General Investigating Committee encapsulated the situation succinctly, stating, “But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment.” Therefore, it was Paxton’s request for the settlement, rather than his actions alone, that became the tipping point in his impeachment.

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