Saturday, September 23, 2023

Ken Paxton’s historic ouster deepens rift in Texas Republican Party


AUSTIN, Texas – The historic ouster of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was the first step in a Republican battle over whether to deport one of their own in America’s biggest red state after years of criminal indictments.

Paxton and his allies, from former President Donald Trump to far-right grassroots organizations across Texas, now look to what Paxton hopes will be a friendlier setting: a trial in the state Senate.

It is not yet clear when it will happen on Sunday. The Republican-led Senate met in the final days of the legislative session to pass the bills. But the chamber’s speaker, Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, did not immediately comment on Paxton’s removal.

Paxton has said he has “full confidence” as he awaits the Senate trial. Among his conservative allies is his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, who has not said whether she will recuse herself from the process of determining whether her husband will be permanently removed.

For now, the three-term attorney general of Texas has been suspended shortly after the state House of Representatives impeached Paxton on Saturday on 20 counts, including bribery and breach of public trust.

The swing 121-23 vote amounted to an apparent rebuke from the GOP-controlled chamber after nearly a decade of Republican lawmakers taking a largely silent stance on Paxton’s alleged misdeeds, which include felony securities fraud charges. 2015 and the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption allegations.

He is only the third active duty officer to be prosecuted in Texas’ nearly 200-year history.

Republican State Representative David Spiller said, “No one person should be above the law, least of all the highest law enforcement official in the state of Texas.” quietly investigating Paxton for months.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott remained silent on Paxton all week, even after Saturday’s impeachment. Abbott, who was the state’s attorney general before Paxton took office in 2015, has the power to name a temporary replacement pending the outcome of the Senate trial.

Paxton’s eventual removal would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, where Republican members favor the party’s hard right. Patrick, the Senate president, has been a state chair for Trump’s campaigns in Texas.

A group of Republican senators issued similar statements on Saturday and Sunday, saying they “welcome and encourage communication from our constituents.” But the group also said they are now considered jurors and will not discuss the Paxton case.

Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Trump and US Senator Ted Cruz came to Paxton’s defense, with the senator calling the impeachment process “a travesty” and saying the attorney general’s legal problems should be left to the courts.

“Free Ken Paxton,” Trump wrote on his Truth social media platform, warning that if House Republicans move forward with impeachment, “I will fight you.”

Paxton, 60, denounced the result in the House moments after dozens of his fellow party members voted to remove him. His office cited internal reports that found no wrongdoing.

Paxton said, “Today’s ugly spectacle in the Texas House of Representatives confirms that the reprehensible conspiracy to remove me was never fair or just.” “It was a politically motivated farce from the start.”

Lawmakers affiliated with Paxton tried to discredit the investigation by pointing out that it was contract investigators, not panel members, who interviewed witnesses. He also said that many investigators had voted in the Democratic primary, tainting the impeachment trial, and that Republican lawmakers had little time to review the evidence.

One of the most conservative members of the House, Rep. Tony Tinderholt, said before the vote, “I think it could be a political tool.” Republican Representative John Smithy compared the proceedings to a “Saturday mob looking for an afternoon mob”.

Rice University political science professor Mark P. Jones said the swift recall prevented Paxton from garnering significant support and quietly allowed disaffected Republicans to rally.

“If you ask most Republicans privately, they think Paxton is an embarrassment. But most were too scared of the base to oppose him,” Jones said. By voting as a large bloc, he said, MPs gained political coverage.

For Paxton’s longtime critics, however, the rebuke came years later.

In 2014, he admitted to violating Texas securities law, and a year later he was charged with securities fraud in his hometown near Dallas, accused of defrauding investors in a tech startup. He pleaded not guilty to two felonies, which carry a possible sentence of five to 99 years.

He opened a legal defense fund and accepted $100,000 from an executive whose company was being investigated by Paxton’s office for Medicaid fraud. Another $50,000 was donated by an Arizona retiree whose son Paxton was later hired for a top position but was soon fired after displaying child pornography at a meeting. In 2020, Paxton intervened in a Colorado mountain community where a donor and college roommate from Texas were facing eviction from their lakeside home under coronavirus orders.

But what ultimately fueled the impeachment was Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.

In 2020, eight senior advisers told the FBI that they were concerned that Paxton was abusing his position to help Paul over unproven claims of the originator of an elaborate plot to steal $200 million of his wealth. The FBI searched Paul’s home in 2019, but he was not charged and denied any wrongdoing. Paxton also told members of his staff that he was having an affair with a woman, who it was later revealed worked for Paul.

The impeachment trial accuses Paxton of attempting to interfere with criminal trials and issuing legal opinions to benefit Paul. Included in the indictment are allegations of bribery that Paul hired a woman with whom Paxton had an affair in exchange for legal help and paid for expensive renovations to the attorney general’s home. Chris Hilton, a senior attorney in Paxton’s office, said Friday that the attorney general paid for all repairs and renovations.

Other charges, such as lying to investigators, predate the date of Paxton’s pending securities fraud indictment.

Four associates who reported on Paxton to the FBI subsequently filed suit under the Texas whistleblower law, and in February Paxton agreed to a $3.3 million settlement. The House committee noted that Paxton had sought legislative approval for the payments.

“But for Paxton’s own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement for his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not have faced impeachment,” the panel said.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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