Paxton Scorches Phelan as Investigation Starts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton | Image by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Twitter

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton denounced House Speaker Dade Phelan’s (R-Beaumont) leadership ahead of a House committee investigation into Paxton’s alleged misdeeds.

The House Committee on General Investigating, chaired by Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction), heard testimony from investigators about a probe into alleged misconduct by Paxton, related in part to his treatment of whistleblowers in the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).

After years of litigation, Paxton and the whistleblowers agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement, which Paxton suggested should be covered by taxpayer funds allocated in the state’s budget.

However, Speaker Phelan had dashed such hopes, saying, “I don’t anticipate that $3.3 million being in the House budget … Mr. Paxton’s going to have to come to the Texas House, he’s going to have to appear before the Appropriations Committee and make a case to that committee as to why that is a proper use of taxpayer dollars.”

A letter requiring Paxton to preserve evidentiary documents explained, “The House has been conducting an investigation related to your request for $3.3. million dollars of public money to pay a settlement resolving litigation between your agency and terminated whistleblowers.”

During the opening hearings on May 23 and 24, the Committee elicited testimony from investigators who claimed there were several instances of potentially illegal activity committed by Paxton, who has been mired in controversy for some years. Paxton was indicted on fraud charges back in 2015 and faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted.

Paxton denounced the investigation and criticized Phelan, saying:

“The liberal leadership of the Texas House has routinely killed conservative legislation including important bills which would help secure our border and protect the integrity of our elections.”

“They have demonstrated nothing but contempt for the traditional values of conservative Texans. It is not surprising that a committee appointed by liberal Speaker Dade Phelan would seek to disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as Attorney General.”

“The false testimony of highly partisan Democrat lawyers with the goal of manipulating and misleading the public is reprehensible. Every allegation is easily disproved, and I look forward to continuing my fight for conservative Texas values.”

Unlike the Committee’s most recent investigation into now-expelled Rep. Bryan Slaton, the inquiry into Paxton is being live-streamed and is open to the public.

Paxton has been elected attorney general three times, winning in 2022 by nearly 12 points, earning almost 900,000 more votes than his challenger. Phelan ran unopposed for his House seat in 2022 but garnered just over 65,000 votes in 2020.

The standoff between Paxton and Phelan has escalated over the last few days, with the attorney general publicly calling for Phelan’s resignation just before the House committee’s investigation hearings began.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Speaker Phelan allegedly appeared drunk during House deliberations on May 19, slurring his words and seeming unsteady on his feet.

Widely shared videos of the incident led to speculation, with some theories suggesting he was intoxicated or that he might have been suffering from an undisclosed medical episode.

Phelan has refused to explain his behavior, ignoring repeated requests for comment about the incident from The Dallas Express and other media organizations.

On May 23, Paxton called for Phelan’s resignation, declaring, “After much consideration, it is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislative session.”

“Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication,” the statement continued. “His conduct has negatively impacted the legislative process and constitutes a failure to live up to his duty to the public.”

“Texans were relying on the House to pass critical conservative priorities including protecting the integrity of our elections and preventing Chinese spies from controlling Texas land. His failures as Speaker have created a credibility crisis for all Republican candidates and for our entire Party,” Paxton said.

“While I hope Speaker Phelan will get the help he needs, he has proven himself unworthy of Texans’ trust and incapable of leading the Texas House,” the statement concluded.

Paxton also sent a letter to the House Committee on General Investigating requesting that it open an inquiry into Phelan’s behavior.

Although Phelan has refused to disclose whether he was drunk or experiencing a medical episode, his spokesperson Cait Wittman did comment on the ongoing investigation into Paxton in a statement to The Texan:

“Committee minutes and official House records indicate the Committee has been investigating [Paxton] since March — and the motives for and timing behind Paxton’s statement today couldn’t be more evident … [T]he Committee is conducting a thorough examination of the events tied to the firing of the whistleblowers in addition to Ken Paxton’s alleged illegal conduct. Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last ditch effort to save face.”

In a separate statement on May 24, Phelan’s spokesman further asserted, “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.”

“Speaker Phelan stands in full support of the General Investigating Committee and the recommendations that may come as a result of their thorough and diligent investigation,” Wittman added.

Phelan has drawn increasing levels of criticism from the Texas Republican Party over a perceived failure to advance conservative priorities through the House, even though Republicans hold a strong majority.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) criticized Phelan’s leadership, tweeting, “The cards were purposefully stacked against republicans as usual. We do it to ourselves. We control when bills move, what day they hit the floor and what happens while on the floor.”

“Don’t let one Republican member tell you we ran out of time or we ‘almost’ got that priority passed,” he added. “This movie was already scripted, approved and cast with known outcomes before filming ever began today!”

Tinderholt had challenged Phelan for the position of speaker at the start of the legislative session but only received three votes, as reported by The Dallas Express. Phelan received the unanimous support of House Democrats.

Similarly, with only a week left in the session, Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian) lamented on Twitter that the Republican-controlled House had not “Passed education freedom,” “Passed real border security,” “Banned COVID mandates,” “Refocused energy market on reliable sources, “Banned taxpayer funded lobbying,” “Banned DEI in college,” “Limited executive powers,” or “Eliminated property taxes.”

Political commentator Michael Quinn Sullivan alleged on Twitter, “No one has done more in 2023 to thwart the grassroots @TexasGOP agenda in Texas than House Speaker @DadePhelan.”

For his part, Texas Republican Party Chairman Matt Rinaldi, a frequent critic of Phelan’s, concurred with Paxton that an inquiry should be opened into Phelan’s behavior, telling The Dallas Express, “The House should thoroughly investigate all appearances of impropriety and apply the rules fairly and evenly. We will withhold further comment until the factual record is more fully developed.”

The Committee on General Investigating is expected to continue hearings on the matter.

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