Ken Paxton may have violated multiple state laws and ethics rules, a Texas House of Representatives committee disclosed in a hearing Wednesday morning that summarized its months-long investigation into the Republican attorney general.
The investigators’ public testimony came a day after Paxton called for House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) to resign, accusing him of being “intoxicated” while presiding over the House late last week.
In a probe that began in March, investigators say Paxton abused his official capacity, misused official information and retaliated against whistleblowers who had accused him of corruption in October 2020. Paxton settled the corruption lawsuit with four former aides in February for $3.3 million — a sum Paxton had sought to pay using taxpayer funds.
But the Texas legislature balked at using public funds to pay that settlement. Phelan told a local television station in February that Paxton would have to personally explain “why that is a proper use of taxpayer dollars, and then he’s going to have to sell it to 76 members of the Texas House.”
The investigation by the GOP-led, bipartisan General Investigating Committee widens the fissure between the embattled attorney general and lawmakers from his own party.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the investigative team of five attorneys said they combed through hundreds of pages of documents and interviewed 15 people.
Committee members on Wednesday heard what the Texas Tribune described as hours of “painstaking and methodical” testimony from investigators about Paxton’s allegedly inappropriate and illegal behavior.
The outlet quoted one investigator, Erin Epley, who urged the committee to “look at the pattern and the deviations from the norm, questions not just of criminal activity but of ethical impropriety and for lacking in transparency.”
Investigators said Paxton pressured the open records division in his office to help a donor and friend, Nate Paul, in his legal fight with a nonprofit group in Austin. In exchange for that help, investigators said, Paul helped with a “floor-to-ceiling renovation” at Paxton’s home and employed a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair. The investigators also said Paxton wrongly fired several former staffers who reported his inappropriate behavior to authorities.
In a statement posted Wednesday on Twitter, Paxton said the investigating panel was trying to “disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as Attorney General.”
“Every allegation is easily disproved,” Paxton said. “And I look forward to continuing my fight for conservative Texas values.”
He also called into a Dallas radio show Wednesday morning to lob more accusations of drinking in the state House.
In the interview, Paxton denied any wrongdoing and said his staff agreed to the $3.3 million settlement with his former staffers because he felt he could not get a fair trial in Travis County, which includes the capital city of Austin.
“I’m not saying we were going to lose because we were wrong,” Paxton said. “I’m saying in Austin, typically, the law and the facts are not determinative of the outcome.”
James Wesolek, communications director for the Texas Republican Party, said, “We do not have a statement on these matters at this time.”
Cait Wittman, a spokeswoman for Phelan, said in a statement Wednesday that the testimony about Paxton “was extremely disturbing” and that the attorney general “appears to have routinely abused his powers for personal gain and exhibited blatant disregard for the ethical and legal propriety expected of the state’s leading law enforcement officer.”
Wittman also said the speaker fully supports the committee “and the recommendations that may come as a result of their thorough and diligent investigation.”
The attorney general posted a statement on social media Tuesday saying Phelan’s conduct “negatively impacted” the work of the state legislature and “created a credibility crisis for all Republican candidates and for our entire Party.” He said that while he hoped Phelan “will get the help he needs, he has proven himself unworthy of Texans’ trust and incapable of leading the Texas House.”
Paxton’s accusation against Phelan appears to refer to a video that seems to show the speaker moving slowly and speaking unclearly Saturday, after what local television station KXAN said was “the end of a 14-hour day” at the House. Paxton said Phelan had been “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication,” and he called on the House General Investigating Committee to look into the House speaker’s behavior.
State Rep. Andrew Murr (R), chairman of the committee investigating Paxton, did not respond to messages Tuesday, but in a letter obtained by the Associated Press he said the panel directed Paxton and his aides to “preserve all communications” related to the settlement, the firing of whistleblowers and “the alleged wrongful conduct engaged in by you and your office.”
Paxton has been under felony indictment for securities fraud since 2015, the year he became attorney general. The FBI opened an investigation into Paxton in November 2020 on allegations he used his office to benefit a wealthy donor, the AP reported.
In September 2022, a Texas judge ordered Paxton to sit for a deposition about accusations of securities fraud. Later that month Paxton ran out of his home and took off in a truck with his wife when a process server showed up at his home with a subpoena in an unrelated case, according to an affidavit from that process server.
Against the backdrop of those scandals, Paxton fought hard to hold onto his seat.
Former president Donald Trump endorsed him in July 2021, and Paxton was forced into a runoff election after failing to get enough primary votes to win the Republican nomination outright. Paxton eventually won that runoff and went on to win the general election that fall.