Texas House Impeaches AG Ken Paxton

Speaker Dade Phelan presided over a contentious four-hour debate over the fate of Attorney General Ken Paxton. | Image by Bob Daemmrich/The Texas Tribune

After four hours of debate, the Texas House voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, sending the matter to the Senate for a trial.

The motion to impeach was carried by a Democrat majority, while Republicans were split on the issue. While waiting for the Senate trial, Paxton has been relieved of his duties, and First Assistant Attorney General Brent Webster will become acting attorney general while Governor Greg Abbott considers naming an appointment.

The final vote was 121 yeas, 23 nays, and two who declared themselves as present but not voting. Out of the yeas, 61 were Democrats, while 60 were Republicans.

All 23 of the nays were Republicans, while Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) and Rep. Richard Hayes (R-Denton) were the two that chose present not voting.

House members were asked to vote on impeachment after receiving the articles of impeachment, a transcript of the public hearing held by the General Investigating Committee, and a subsequent memo from the committee explaining the process. Although the committee had launched a probe into Paxton in March, most members were unaware of the investigation and were only given the first of these documents roughly 48 hours before the vote was taken.

Both during the debate on the floor and afterward through issued statements, House members sought to explain the reasons behind their votes.

Leading the opposition to the impeachment resolution on the floor, Rep. John Smithee (R-Amarillo) laid out that the process undertaken in Paxton’s impeachment was significantly different from previous impeachments in Texas history.

“I’m not here today to tell you that General Paxton should be impeached. Bottom line is I don’t know if he should or not cause I don’t have the evidence to know,” Smithee said.

Smithee suggested that the House was deciding to “hang him now and judge him later,” saying that “the process is indefensible.”

Precedence gives stability and predictability, Smithee explained, suggesting that this impeachment process completely overturned past examples.

“No witness was ever examined in the committee … What you have in this case is triple hearsay,” the lawyer said, pointing to the fact that the articles of impeachment were based upon unsworn testimony from investigators who based their explanation off of unsworn testimony they had heard from witnesses.

“It concerns me … that in case, in this impeachment, that not one witness was put under oath,” Smithee said. “You have all these things that amount to accusations but certainly not evidence.”

Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) similarly raised issues with the process. He explained that while “the allegations against … Paxton are extraordinarily concerning,” the nature of the investigation and impeachment were disqualifying.

“The impeachment proceedings themselves must be unimpeachable,” Harrison explained, pointing to the fact that the articles were presented to members “less than 48 hours ago and with no warning,” that the articles did not have “a shred of anything closely approximating evidence,” and that the articles “were [provided with] woefully insufficient time.”

Rep Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), who also spoke against the motion, tweeted, “It’s truly shocking that not a single person from @KenPaxtonTX’s office was ever questioned about this proceeding. Can you imagine any investigation in which the suspect isn’t once questioned and when his attorney asks to bring testimony to investigators, he’s turned away? I can’t.”

“Process matters, especially in such an important undertaking,” he emphasized.

Smithee’s speech was met with strong applause from the audience in the gallery, which was condemned by Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont).

Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) also voted against impeachment after speaking against the process on the floor. He added that “the evidence wasn’t worth warm spit and what we did have was often bogus and yet, Paxton was still impeached.”

In an additional statement, Toth added, “I will not delegate my duty to honestly evaluate the evidence in such an important decision to the General Investigating Committee’s staff, most of whom are registered Democrats.”

Rep. Carrie Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) also voted against impeachment, explaining that while “concerned about the allegations,” she did not “believe that some members of the House, myself included, have a good understanding of the adequacy, legality, or fairness of the impeachment process.”

“We are being asked to vote on impeachment while in the midst of considering the House budget, and many other legislative items of great importance,” she continued. “I cannot vote to impeach when the members of the full House have had no direct access to witnesses or supporting documents and have had no time to properly prepare and understand the matter in question.”

“The simple truth is that the evidentiary basis to impeach Attorney General Paxton has not been properly established,” she claimed.

Rep. Dennis Paul (R-Houston) explained his no vote saying, “I also heard from many of my constituents worried about the speed and process with which this resolution was taken up, and I agree with their concerns.”

Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) also voted nay on account of “concerns about the speed and transparency. … The rushed process of this impeachment sets a dubious precedent for future removals of duly elected officials.”

Rep. Dutton, one of the two who gave a present not voting decision, explained afterward, “Democrats should have left this to Republicans. It would have been 60 for and 23 against. Paxton would have stayed and been on the election ballot,” noting that Republicans did not have enough votes to impeach Paxton alone.

“Then Democrats would have had a better climate to elect a statewide official because Paxton would have been a drag on the ticket. Now the Republicans will get someone to replace Paxton and shore up their ticket,” Dutton reasoned.

However, other Democrats voiced their support for the impeachment of one of Texas’ top Republican politicians.

Rep. Mihaela Plesa (D-Dallas) said, “A bipartisan supermajority of the Texas House voted to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton on twenty articles of impeachment.”

In an earlier statement, she explained, “I am not going to be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, and the destruction of the Constitution by someone who would abuse their office to such ends. I will fulfill my duty where General Paxton has failed to fulfill his.”

Notably, Rep. Eddie Morales (D-Eagle Pass) also asked that the articles of impeachment be included to add a charge based upon Rep. Geren’s allegation made during the debate that Paxton had called and threatened members if they voted to impeach him.

Morales also explained that “voting to impeach Attorney General Paxton is about preserving the integrity of our elected officials. The Texas House did our job to uphold our oaths of office, and I have full confidence the Senate will do their part and conduct a fair trial.”

Rep. Ann Johnson (D-Houston), one of the members of the General Investigating Committee, said in a statement after the vote, “We learned over months of investigations, and hours of discussion today, that our top cop is on the take. I voted to impeach because no one is above the law.”

The Republicans who sided with Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) in voting to impeach Paxton also attempted to justify their decision.

The Collin County Republican delegation, including Reps. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), Justin Holland (R-Rockwall), Candy Noble (R-Lucas), and Frederick Frazier (R-McKinney) issued a joint statement explaining, “This was an incredibly difficult vote as, for most of us, Ken has been a longtime friend.”

“Without question, Ken has been an aggressive and effective warrior defending Texans against federal overreach,” they added, but they also noted that “it became clear to us that sufficient evidence indeed exists to vote to commend articles of impeachment to the Texas Senate for a full-trial.”

Similarly, General Investigating Committee member Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) said, “I joined 70% of House Republicans in supporting this resolution. No matter the politically-charged feelings surrounding this issue, we have a Constitutional duty to protect our citizens from abuses of power and to ensure light is fully shined on this matter.”

The official Twitter account of the Texas Attorney General tweeted out a link to a report that supposedly refuted the allegations made in the articles of impeachment.

“The TX House’s impeachment was based on totally false claims,” the tweet said. “After an internal investigation, the OAG retained an outside law firm to further investigate, which culminated in a report. The OAG offered it to the House, but they refused.”

Additionally, Ken Paxton said, “The ugly spectacle in the Texas House today confirmed the outrageous impeachment plot against me was never meant to be fair or just. It was a politically motivated sham from the beginning.”

“My office made every effort to present evidence, testimony, and irrefutable facts that would have disproven the countless false statements and outright lies advanced by Speaker Dade Phelan and the Murr-Johnson panel he appointed,” Paxton continued.

“Phelan’s coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans is now in lockstep with the Biden Administration, the abortion industry, anti-gun zealots, and woke corporations to sabotage my work as Attorney General,” Paxton suggested, “including our ongoing litigation to stop illegal immigration, uphold the rule of law, and protect the constitutional rights of every Texan.”

Several of the Senators issued similar statements concerning the coming trial of Paxton, explaining that they would be unable to talk about the matter but would conduct the trial constitutionally.

Sen. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) said, “Because we are jurors, we cannot discuss the case with anyone. … Know that we will faithfully follow the constitution and the law, and we will honor our sworn oaths.”

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) issued the same statement, as well as Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

Ken Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), is a member of the body that will vote on convicting him. As of the time of publication, she has not announced if she will recuse herself or not.

To learn more about the events leading up to the impeachment, read previous coverage from The Dallas Express, including:


    • VIDEO: Observers Allege House Speaker Drunk on Floor, here.
    • Attorney General Demands Phelan Resign, here.
    • Phelan Dodges Questions on Drunken Claims, here.
    • Paxton Scorches Phelan as Investigation Starts, here.
    • Committee Recommends Paxton Impeachment, here.
    • Texas GOP Rallies Behind Embattled Paxton, here.
    • House Files 20 Impeachment Articles Against Paxton, here.
    • Impeachment | ‘Drunk Dade’ v. ‘Krooked Ken,’ here.
    • House Votes to Impeach Paxton, here.

    Support our non-profit journalism

    Submit a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *