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Three-term Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton faces calls for impeachment

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

To Texas, where tomorrow the state's attorney general, Ken Paxton, will face an impeachment vote in the Texas House. The Republican is popular among voters. He is, after all, a three-term state attorney general. But he is also no stranger to being investigated. Paxton was indicted about eight years ago for securities fraud. He still has yet to face trial for that. This week, a Texas House committee alleges he's committed illegal acts since then. Paxton spoke to reporters this afternoon calling the impeachment proceedings politically motivated.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEN PAXTON: Every politician who supports this deceitful impeachment attempt will inflict lasting damage on the credibility of the Texas House, which I served in.

SUMMERS: The Texas Newsroom's Julian Aguilar is here with more. Hey there.

JULIAN AGUILAR, BYLINE: How're you doing?

SUMMERS: I'm well. So tell us, what exactly is the Texas House alleging against Paxton?

AGUILAR: So the House committee that launched this investigation found that Paxton repeatedly abused his office to help a friend and campaign donor. The donor, Nate Paul, was under investigation by the FBI, and Paxton intervened, according to former members of his staff. So that set off a laundry list of allegations that include disregard of official duty, constitutional bribery, obstruction of justice and false statements in official records, to name a few. This was all in relation to a $3.3 million settlement that Paxton entered into with former employees turned whistleblowers who reported the allegations.

SUMMERS: Long list of allegations there - how's Paxton responding?

AGUILAR: Well, you know, this afternoon, Paxton doubled down on his belief that the impeachment proceedings are illegal, which you all just, you know, had sound for, and it's a witch hunt intended to derail his efforts to stop President Biden's policies in court. Paxton says there's no other state that has so much influence over the, quote, "fate of our nation." And he added that his office hasn't been allowed to present its own evidence that would absolve the attorney general. He also called on his supporters to go to the Capitol on Saturday to let their voices be heard. And it should be noted that infighting between Texas Republicans isn't new. The Texas House has for years been considered the more moderate wing of the legislature, and far-right officials have accused the lower chamber of stopping progress on more conservative issues. And we've already seen that play out in this session on issues that include school vouchers and border security.

SUMMERS: OK. I've got a process question for you about the impeachment process. What comes next here?

AGUILAR: OK. So the legislature gavels out on Monday, but the House will undergo its impeachment proceedings Saturday at 1 p.m. local time. The House needs a simple majority of aye votes to impeach. And unlike federal rules, if the House does move to impeach, Paxton would have to step aside, at least until the state Senate acts. Then the matter goes over to the Senate, if the House acts, where the Senate would vote to hold the trial and look at the evidence. Two-thirds of the members would need to vote to convict Paxton in order to remove him permanently. The Senate has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, and one of the members is Republican Senator Angela Paxton, who is the attorney general's wife. It's not - yeah, exactly. It's not yet clear whether she's required to recuse herself from the proceedings. So it could be a tougher sell to oust Paxton in the state's upper chamber, which is considered a little bit more conservative, and where Paxton was once a member.

SUMMERS: OK, about 30 seconds left here. You're saying if Paxton's impeached, he would be suspended temporarily. So what does that mean for his job, any cases that the AG's office is involved in?

AGUILAR: That's a great question because in one of his responses, Paxton said that the pseudo-Republicans in the House are trying to, quote, "sabotage the legal challenges to Biden's extremist agenda." Paxton has made a name for himself, you know, aside from the mounting scandals, for suing the Biden administration...

SUMMERS: Yeah.

AGUILAR: ...On several issues. So if his office - and his office is scheduled to go to court on Thursday to argue against the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which a lot of people know as DACA.

SUMMERS: OK.

AGUILAR: So it's unclear who will be at the helm as this plays out.

SUMMERS: All right. We'll have to leave it there. The Texas Newsroom's Julian Aguilar, thank you.

AGUILAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom