Texas House Investigates Attorney General Ken Paxton; Calls for Speaker’s Resignation.
The State of Texas was left in shock after Ken Paxton, the Attorney General, called on Dade Phelan, the House Speaker, to resign over alleged drunkenness while leading the House. This marked a historic and incredibly acrimonious moment between two prominent Texas Republicans. However, only a few hours later, it was revealed that Texas House committee was investigating Mr. Paxton’s office. This investigation was a direct result of Paxton’s push for $3.3 million in taxpayer dollars to settle a whistleblower lawsuit that had been filed against him by former deputies who accused him of misconduct.
The ongoing investigation, initiated in March and continuing throughout the turbulent events of the past few days, underscores the gravity of the new legal jeopardy Paxton is facing against his already infamous scandals. The House Committee on General Investigating possesses broad powers to probe alleged misconduct in state government and can even initiate impeachment proceedings. The disturbing events also highlight the divide between Phelan and Paxton in terms of their opposing political stances. Paxton, a loyalist of former President Donald Trump, comes from a Texas GOP group that consistently berates the House for its lack of conservatism.
The House Committee’s investigation was initially disclosed publicly during a brief meeting held on Tuesday afternoon. The panel unanimously voted to issue two subpoenas for Paxton’s office and “John Doe No. 6” in “Matter A.” The committee is scheduled to convene again early on Wednesday morning to take testimonies on the matter. The committee also issued a letter urging Paxton’s office to retain all evidence related to the investigation.
Paxton’s request for $3.3 million public money to settle a lawsuit brought against him by former deputies, who claimed that they had been fired in an act of retaliation for reporting alledged wrongdoing to federal investigators, has caused tension in the political landscape. Paxton struck a deal with the former deputies in February, however, lawmakers in both chambers have balked at funding the payment, with Phelan saying he opposes it. In addition, a draft of the state budget opposes allocating state funds to cater to the settlement dispute.
Paxton took to Twitter around two hours before General Investigating Committee Chair Andrew S. Murr’s declarations of the subpoenas on Tuesday, to publicly call for Phelan’s resignation, accusing him of presiding over his chamber “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication.” Paxton also urged the House, General Investigating to investigate Phelan’s conduct. Paxton’s request came after a video clip went viral on social media showing Phelan slurring his words while overseeing House floor proceedings on Friday night.
Phelan’s supporters have argued that he appeared to speak normally before and after the video clip, and the people promoting or pushing the video could be motivated by a desire for revenge after the House expelled one of their political allies, former state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, on the ground for engaging in sexual misconduct with a 19-year-old aide. Paxton has faced his share of legal concerns over the years. In 2015, months after taking office, he was indicted for securities fraud traceable to personal business transactions in 2011 and has consistently denied committing any wrongdoing.
Paxton’s ethical problems are also reflected in the events of 2020 when several high-ranking officials accused him of using his position as Attorney General to benefit his business associate, real estate investor Nate Paul, who had donated $25,000 to Paxton’s 2018 campaign. All eight of those individuals were terminated from their positions or left the Attorney General’s office shortly afterward, with four of them, David Maxwell, Blake Brickman, Mark Penley, and Ryan Vassar, suing Paxton under the Texas Whistleblower Act in November of 2020.
They claimed that Paxton used his position to help Paul, gain access to investigative documents linked to 2019 searches of Paul’s properties by state and federal authorities. They also accused Paxton of rushing through a written opinion that said foreclosure sales had to be delayed under pandemic safety rules. This, in turn, allowed Paul to postpone the sale of one of his properties two days later. The defendants alleged that Paul had helped to renovate Paxton’s home and had given a job to a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had a relationship. Paxton is married to State Senator Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.
Further complicating the issue is the Legislature’s refusal to fund the settlement proposed by Paxton, resulting in the case’s fate hanging in the balance. The former deputies filed the lawsuit in question after suffering unfair termination, and they believed they would receive a fair settlement under the proposed agreement. Their attorneys, in an effort to highlight the urgency of the situation, noted that their clients had relayed their knowledge of the alleged misconduct to state and federal authorities. The FBI began to investigate the claims after they became public in 2020. In February, the investigation was transferred to U.S. Department of Justice investigators in Washington, D.C.
Phelan’s office has repeatedly declined to comment on the events of the past few days, preferring to remain largely out of the public eye. However, Wittman, a spokesperson for Phelan, emphasized that the House investigation does not make public comments on ongoing investigations. Hence, the investigation into “Matter A” to which Mr. Paxton was connected has remained largely confidential.
In conclusion, the series of unfolding events marks a significant moment in Texas politics, exposing the rank depth of political divisions and concerns over political maneuvering among the state’s top officials.