Ken Paxton’s claim that the Texas speaker was drunk highlights the GOP divide

A months-long simmering scandal among top Republicans in Texas exploded into public view this week, as under-indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton accused the speaker of the Texas House of performing his duties while intoxicated and called for the speaker’s resignation. .

The move sent shockwaves through Austin on Tuesday. Then, within an hour, Mr. News that Paxton may have had a personal motive for attacking Speaker Tate Phelan came: As part of an investigation into the Attorney General’s request, Mr. A House committee submitted records from Paxton’s office. $3.3 million in government money to settle corruption charges brought against him by his own former top aides.

A Republican-controlled House committee — the Committee on Public Inquiries — convened Wednesday to hear Three hours of extensive public testimony A real estate developer and donor to help Mr. Paxton abused and misused his office and took revenge on those in his office who spoke out against him.

The scandalous allegations harkened back to an earlier era of outlandish behavior and political posturing at the state Capitol. But it revealed a much simpler and more consequential political reality in Texas.

Investigators, including former attorneys in the Trump administration and a former U.S. attorney — Mr. They outlined the evidence they had gathered against Paxton. When they met, the attorney general suggested on Twitter that he believed the Texas House was preparing a case to impeach him.

“It’s no surprise that a panel appointed by libertarian Speaker Tate Phelan is seeking to disenfranchise Texas voters and undermine my work as attorney general,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement Wednesday aimed at his base of supporters, many of whom are Mr. Phelan joined the Democrats.

Mr. Paxton did not specifically address the impeachment, but his comment about disenfranchising voters seemed to hint at a possible outcome of the committee’s investigation.

The internal rift played out dramatically on Tuesday.

“It is with deep disappointment that I call on Speaker Tate Belen to resign at the end of this legislative session,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “Texans were shocked by his performance leading the Texas House.”

Mr. Paxton He posted a picture of a letter He sent a public inquiry committee on Tuesday to look into possible violations.

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On Tuesday Mr. Just as the committee was preparing to hold its meeting on Paxton’s case, the Attorney General, Mr. Phelan, 47, made his accusations. He did so based on a video that went viral online from a midnight session of the Texas House on Friday. About 5 hours 29 minutes On the official house videoMr. Phelan appears to slur his words as he speaks.

Some inside the House Chamber on Friday, Mr. Phelan’s speech came at the end of more than 12 hours of hearings and polls, but people said there was no problem with his behavior, even though he was slurred in part of the video. On that day Mr. Belen supervised.

Representative Jarvis Johnson, a Houston Democrat, spoke to the House shortly after the moment shown in the clip. Mr. He said Wednesday that he had not observed any unusual behavior by Phelan.

Mr. Mr. Phelan Paxton did not directly respond to the allegations. Even so, his leadership of the Texas House, a faction of the Republican Party in Texas, Mr. They underscored the extent to which Paxton has angered far-right lawmakers and conservative activists with whom he has long been affiliated. Law enforcement at the border, public money for private school vouchers or showing the Ten Commandments in public schools – Mr. They complained that Phelan blocked or diluted their priorities.

The Texas House has often served as a relatively moderate Republican bulwark against the more conservative instincts of the party’s right wing, to the consternation of some in Austin and the relief of others.

Mr. The trial of Paxton added an unusual element to the usual infighting.

While the broad outline of the allegations presented to the committee on Wednesday is not new, Mr. In 2018 Mr. Mr. Nate Ball, an Austin developer who contributed $25,000 to Paxton, helped them. It provided new details and context about Paxton’s efforts.

Mr. Paxton, Mr. He had an affair with a woman who worked in the milk office and Mr. Investigators also said Paxton would punish or isolate employees who confronted him about his actions.

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Mark Donnelly, a former prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said those who gave information to investigators were mostly “the cream of the crop who hated Mr. Paxton’s behavior.”

“This feeling is shared, almost universal,” Mr. Donnelly said, “The actions they had to take, the positions they were placed in, the decisions made by the attorney general, were in contempt of office and dereliction of duty. Their profession.”

After the panel meeting on Wednesday, in the hallways of the Capitol, a quiet discussion among lobbyists and legislators about whether events would take a more consequential turn — Mr. The impeachment against Paxton began to focus on what — and politics — was all about. Such a move would have ramifications for various camps of Republicans. Few preferred to be quoted for fear of backing the wrong side of a still very unresolved situation.

Even long-time observers of Texas politics and its scandals were surprised by the situation.

“I would say this is as damaging and important a scandal as we’ve seen in Texas political history,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who is working on a book on Texas political scandals. “Not just because of what happened, but because of how long it’s been going on and how Paxton has been able to sustain it.”

Mr. The controversy over whether Belen was drunk, Mr. He added that the charges against Paxton were “very mild”. “We’ve got remittances from cash to veterans, and we’ve transferred huge amounts of money that are undeclared,” said Mr. Rottinghaus spoke about the recent scandals in the state. “We’ve had some of the worst abuses in Texas history.”

Mr. Most of the information and allegations against Paxton have been known for years in Texas, including an extramarital affair and Mr. Mr. Paxton also renovated the house from floor to ceiling. Including measures taken for the benefit of milk. Despite the cloud of corruption and an indictment in state court for securities fraud dating back to 2015, Mr. Paxton won re-election for a third term last year, largely due to President Donald J. By aligning closely with Trump and his supporters.

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Mr. Phelan’s spokesman, Mr. He did not immediately respond to questions about whether the group was laying the groundwork for Paxton’s ouster.

On Tuesday, he said in a statement, it was the latest motion in an investigation launched in the legislative session, which Mr. What prompted Paxton’s indictment — specifically, new subpoenas to the attorney general’s office and Mr. A letter to Paxton ordered him to secure documents the committee referred to as “Matter A.”

“In addition to Ken Paxton’s illegal conduct, the team is thoroughly reviewing the events surrounding the whistleblower’s firing,” spokeswoman Cait Whitman said late Tuesday. “The committee minutes show that subpoenas have been issued. Mr. Paxton’s statement today is little more than a last-ditch effort to save face.

Mr. Four of Paxton’s top aides took concerns about his activities to the FBI and the Texas Rangers. All four were fired.

The assistants — Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley, James Blake Brickman and David Maxwell — are all former deputy attorneys general, and Mr. Maxwell is the former director of the Office’s Law Enforcement Division. Mr. They told investigators that Paxton may have committed crimes including bribery and abuse of office. They are Mr. Paxton has also been sued; The case is pending.

To settle the case, Mr. Paxton has asked Govt. Mr. Phelan has said he doesn’t believe a vote in the House is needed to make the payment; He also said that he does not support doing so.

“I don’t think it’s the right use of taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Phelan said In a February TV interview.

Several Republican lawmakers reached for comment on Tuesday said Mr. Paxton declined to discuss the allegations. Representative Chris Turner, a Democrat from the Dallas area, said Mr. Because of the allegations against Paxton, the attorney general said he was the “last person” to call on “anyone to resign.”

“This is a man under multiple charges, under FBI investigation, who tried to change the presidential election,” he said. “So Ken Paxton has to mind his own business.”

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