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Viewer’s Guide to Ken Paxton’s Impeachment

June 01, 2023
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It sounds like a new Netflix series. There are allegations of illicit affairs, fraud, corruption, payoffs and abuse of office, all surrounding a powerful statewide elected official. But it isn’t fiction. It’s the alleged scandal surrounding Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, impeached Saturday by the state House of Representatives in a 121-23 vote, with 71% of Mr. Paxton’s fellow Republicans saying aye. The state Senate will try his case this summer.

He was pursued by an unlikely collection of do-gooders straight from a TV script. Their leader, Rep. Andy Murr, sports a handlebar mustache out of the 1870s. His teammates range from a wicked smart female prosecutor (Rep. Ann Johnson) to an aw-shucks nonlawyer with a brilliant legal mind (Rep. Charlie Geren) to two small-town attorneys with ability and attitude (Reps. David Spiller and Oscar Longoria).

Mr. Paxton faces sordid charges. The House Committee on General Investigating alleges that the attorney general had an affair with a state senator’s district director. When the senator discovered the affair, she fired her staffer, believing it bad form for her to be sleeping with the husband of the senator’s colleague, state Sen. Angela Paxton. Mr. Paxton then allegedly arranged for his mistress to be hired by a real-estate developer, Nate Paul, a controversial businessman with a history of bankruptcies and lawsuits. Investigators allege Mr. Paul may also have paid for renovations to Mr. Paxton’s home.

The investigating committee argues these actions gave Mr. Paul leverage to get the attorney general to use his office on Mr. Paul’s behalf in business disputes, leading to Mr. Paxton’s alleged violations of state law. 

The first involved a charity’s lawsuits against Mr. Paul. First, the charity sued when Mr. Paul refused to open his books on commercial properties that the nonprofit had invested in with him. The suit was settled in mediation, with Mr. Paul agreeing to buy out the charity for $10.5 million. He failed to pay, so the charity sued again. Over the strenuous opposition of senior advisers, the attorney general directed his office’s Charitable Trust Division to intervene for Mr. Paul by pressuring the charity to accept less than half the amount it had won in mediation. The charity refused, went to court, and eventually won $21 million from a forced sale of the properties. 

The committee also alleges Mr. Paxton tried to stop unrelated forced sales of Mr. Paul’s properties. Late on Friday, July 31, 2020, Mr. Paxton told a senior staffer to research whether in-person foreclosure sales held on courthouse steps violated Covid restrictions, with the aim of getting out an opinion by the end of the weekend. Though the senior staffer tasked with drafting the opinion told Mr. Paxton these didn’t violate Covid rules, the attorney general insisted they did and between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 2, his office issued an opinion saying so.

This was highly unusual. Such opinions require a written request from outside the attorney general’s office: Mr. Paxton provided a phone number for the supposed requester to the senior staffer who researched the matter, but when the staffer called, that person “was completely unfamiliar with the matter,” according to committee investigators. The opinion’s speedy release was also unusual. It normally takes 180 days, not 30-some hours. In this case, alacrity was helpful for Mr. Paul; his attorneys tried to use the opinion to stop foreclosures on a dozen or more properties. 

The committee also alleges Mr. Paxton provided Mr. Paul an unredacted copy of a search warrant executed on Mr. Paul by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in August 2019. Mr. Paul apparently wanted to know what the feds knew and from whom they had learned it. Mr. Paxton allegedly rejected advice from senior aides to leave the issue alone and three times tried to force the warrant’s release to Mr. Paul, according to investigators. He failed. After obtaining a copy of the unredacted warrant in his official capacity, in the summer of 2020 he asked an aide to deliver to Mr. Paul “a manila envelope containing several sheets of paper,” according to investigators. After that, Mr. Paul’s lawyer stopped asking for the warrant.

It sounds like a new Netflix series. There are allegations of illicit affairs, fraud, corruption, payoffs and abuse of office, all surrounding a powerful statewide elected official. But it isn’t fiction. It’s the alleged scandal surrounding Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, impeached Saturday by the state House of Representatives in a 121-23 vote, with 71% of Mr. Paxton’s fellow Republicans saying aye. The state Senate will try his case this summer.

He was pursued by an unlikely collection of do-gooders straight from a TV script. Their leader, Rep. Andy Murr, sports a handlebar mustache out of the 1870s. His teammates range from a wicked smart female prosecutor (Rep. Ann Johnson) to an aw-shucks nonlawyer with a brilliant legal mind (Rep. Charlie Geren) to two small-town attorneys with ability and attitude (Reps. David Spiller and Oscar Longoria).

Read More at the WSJ

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