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Impeachment of Texas's Anti-LGBTQ+ Attorney General Appears Imminent

Impeachment of Texas's Anti-LGBTQ+ Attorney General Appears Imminent

Texas AG Ken Paxton
Stefani Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images

Investigators say Ken Paxton may have done favors for a campaign donor and punished employees who objected.

Updated, May 25, 2023, 6 p.m. Eastern: A Texas House panel is recommending the impeachment of anti-LGBTQ+ Attorney General Ken Paxton, reports The New York Times. The potential impeachment does not relate to Paxton's unrelenting war against LGBTQ+ Texans, but rather financial impropriety, including accusations he benefited a real estate donor, who hired a woman Paxton was having an affair with. Paxton, who is already under criminal indictment for securities fraud, is also accused by Texas House investigators for creating "a climate of fear within the office of the attorney general." He recently settled a lawsuit four of his aides slapped against him, accusing him of corruption and retaliation; Paxton is paying out $3.3 million in that case.

Ken Paxton, the notoriously anti-LGBTQ+ Texas attorney general, may have committed criminal and ethical misdeeds over the course of his career, according to an ongoing investigation.

The release of the investigators’ findings came shortly after Paxton accused Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, a fellow Republican who chairs the ethics committee that ordered the probe, of being drunk on duty.

The investigation began after Paxton requested $3.3 million in state funds to settle lawsuits brought by former employees “who claim they were fired for reporting Paxton to law enforcement for alleged bribery,” Bloomberg CityLabreports. Legislators refused to allocate the money, and Phelan’s committee ordered an investigation that remained secret until now.

Investigators testifying Wednesday before the Texas House said that Paxton, AG since 2015, “had very likely committed crimes, including felonies, as he abused and misused his office to help a real estate developer and donor, and retaliated against those in his office who spoke up against him,” The New York Timesreports.

The allegations against Paxton have been public knowledge for some time, but the testimony “provided new details and context,” according to the Times. The developer, Nate Paul, gave $25,000 to Paxton’s reelection campaign in 2018 and renovated the AG’s home, investigators said, adding that Paul gave a job to a woman with whom Paxton had an extramarital affair. The AG is married to state Sen. Angela Paxton.

Paul’s actions were in return for “political favors” from Paxton, according to the former employees’ lawsuits, The Texas Tribune reports. These alleged favors including giving Paul “access to investigative documents related to 2019 searches of Paul's home and businesses by state and federal authorities,” the Tribune writes. “They also claimed that Paxton rushed through a written opinion that said foreclosure sales had to be suspended under pandemic safety rules, allowing Paul to delay a foreclosure sale for one of his properties two days later.” Employees in the AG’s office who objected to Paxton’s actions were fired or otherwise punished, the investigators testified. Eight “high-ranking officials” had accused Paxton of improperly helping Paul, the Tribune notes, and they all quit or were fired shortly after making the accusations in 2020. Four of them sued.

The investigating team includes several former prosecutors. Among them is Ryan Patrick, a former U.S. attorney and son of Texas’s ultraconservative lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick.

One member of the team, former Harris County prosecutor Mark Donnelly, said the whistleblowers in the AG’s office were “the cream of the crop,” as reported by the Times. “The feeling was shared, almost universal, that the actions they were being asked to take, the positions they were being put in, the decisions made by the attorney general, sullied the office and sullied their commitments on their careers,” he added. The team is continuing to investigate.

Paxton has other legal problems. He has been under indictment for securities fraud since 2015, as it’s alleged he advised people to invest in a technology company without revealing that he would be paid to do so. He has pleaded not guilty, and the trial has been delayed many times. And the State Bar of Texas’s Commission on Lawyer Discipline last year filed a lawsuit “accusing him of engaging in professional misconduct by making dishonest claims when he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election victories in four swing states,” the Tribune notes. Paxton is seeking dismissal of the suit.

Paxton tweeted Tuesday that Phelan should resign as speaker when this year’s legislative session ends. This came after a video clip circulated online over the weekend “that showed Phelan slurring his words while overseeing House floor proceedings Friday night,” according to the Tribune. Paxton said Phelan was “in a state of apparently debilitating intoxication.”

Phelan has declined to comment on the matter, but Paxton has followed up by tweeting that Phelan is a liberal who is seeking “to sabotage my work as Attorney General.” Although Phelan is a Republican, right-wingers in Texas have seen him as a moderate who has led the Texas House in blocking conservative priorities, such as, most recently, a bill that would have required all public school classrooms to display the Ten Commandments. Paxton said the investigators are “highly partisan Democrat lawyers” who have presented “false testimony” that is “easily disproved.” He added that he will go on fighting for “conservative Texas values.”

Those values, to Paxton, include oppressing the LGBTQ+ community. Paxton last year wrote the legal opinion that allowing one’s child to receive gender-affirming care amounts to abuse, so Gov. Greg Abbott ordered investigations of transgender-supportive parents. The investigations are largely blocked while a court case proceeds. Paxton has also said he would gladly defend an anti-sodomy law if Texas passed one again, has brought a lawsuit arguing that employers don’t have to respect trans’ workers identities, and has taken many more anti-LGBTQ+ actions. Just this month he announced an investigation into a hospital to see if it’s been performing gender-affirming procedures on minors.

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