Ken Paxton’s claim Texas speaker drunk highlights Republican split

The thinly veiled contempt that had been brewing for months among senior Texas Republicans burst into the public eye this week when indicted Attorney General Ken Paxton accused the Texas House speaker of performing his duties while intoxicated and demanded that the speaker Resign.

Tuesday’s move shocked Austin.Then, less than an hour later, news emerged that Mr. Paxton may have had a personal motive to attack Speaker Dade Phelan: A House committee has subpoenaed records from Mr. Paxton’s office as part of an investigation into the attorney general’s request for $3.3 million in state funding to address corruption allegations A lawsuit was brought against him by his own former top aide.

A House panel — the General Investigative Committee — met for several hours on Wednesday to discuss Mr. Paxton; the charges against him in 2020; and allegations of retaliation against aides for the matter who were subsequently fired, forced to leave or resign.

The sordid allegations brought to mind earlier antics and political posturing at the state Capitol. But the tangled web of resentment and finger-pointing also highlights a simpler, more important political reality in Texas: Despite their complete control of the legislature and every office statewide, Republicans don’t always How to use their powers to agree.

On Wednesday, five investigators outlined the evidence they had gathered against Mr. Paxton, and after hours of testimony, the attorney general tweeted that he believed the Texas House was preparing a case to impeach him.

“It should come as no surprise that a committee appointed by liberal Speaker Dade Phelan sought to disenfranchise Texas voters and undermine my job as attorney general,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement to his supporter base. Many of them believed that Mr. Phelan was aligned with the Democrats, he said.

Mr. Paxton did not explicitly mention impeachment, but his comments about disenfranchisement appeared to be referring to the possible outcome of the committee’s investigation.

On Tuesday, internal dissent became public in dramatic fashion.

“It is with great disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the conclusion of this legislative session,” Mr Paxton said in a statement. “Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House of Representatives in an apparently debilitated state of intoxication.”

mr paxton Posted a picture of a letter He had sent a request on Tuesday for the General Commission of Inquiry to investigate possible irregularities.

The attorney general laid charges against Mr Phelan, 47, just as the committee was preparing to meet in Mr Paxton’s case on Tuesday. The Texas House of Representatives on Friday.At approximately the 5 hour 29 minute mark In the House of Representatives official videoMr. Phelan seemed to be slurring his words.

Some in the House chamber on Friday said they hadn’t noticed anything wrong with Mr. Phelan’s behavior, though his speech did sound slurred in a video that was over 12 hours old. The hearings and voting came to an end that day and was overseen by Mr. Phelan.

Just after the moment shown in the clip, Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, spoke on the House floor. He said on Wednesday he had not noticed any unusual behavior from Mr Phelan.

Mr. Phelan did not directly respond to Mr. Paxton’s allegations. Even so, they underscored the extent to which his leadership of the Texas House has angered far-right lawmakers and conservative activists, and Mr. Paxton has long aligned himself with a faction of the Texas Republican Party.They complain that Mr. Phelan blocks or dilutes their priorities — border enforcement, public funding for private school vouchers or showing The Ten Commandments of Public Schools.

To the consternation of some in Austin and the relief of others, the Texas House has often served as a relatively moderate Republican bastion against the party’s most conservative instincts on the right.

The investigation into Mr Paxton has added an unusual element to the usual infighting.

By Wednesday, in the corridors of the Capitol, lobbyists and lawmakers began to quietly discuss whether the events would turn to something bigger — the impeachment of Mr. Paxton — and what the political ramifications of such a move would apply to the Republican Party of the various camps. Few are willing to be cited for fear of supporting the wrong side of a situation that is still very fluid.

Even to longtime observers of Texas politics and its scandals, the situation is surprising.

“I would say that this is the most damaging and significant scandal that we have seen in the history of Texas politics,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston who is writing a book on Texas politics. The Book of Political Scandals in Texas. “Not just because of what happened, but how long it went on and how Paxton was able to survive.”

He added that the controversy over whether Phelan was drunk was “pretty tame” compared with the allegations against Paxton. “There are veterans being scammed out of money, we have had large sums of money being diverted and not reported,” Mr Rottinghouse said of the state’s past scandals. “We’ve had some pretty serious malfeasance in Texas history.”

Many of the information and allegations against Mr. Paxton have long been known in Texas, including extramarital affairs and actions for an Austin real estate developer that contributed to Mr. Paxton’s campaign and renovated his home . Despite numerous scandals and state court prosecutions of securities fraud dating back to 2015, Mr. Paxton won re-election to a third term last year largely because of his relationship with President Donald J. Trump and his supporters keep in close contact.

A spokesman for Mr. Phelan did not immediately respond to a question about whether the committee was preparing to impeach Mr. Paxton.

On Tuesday, she said in a statement that it was the latest developments in an investigation that began earlier in the legislative session that prompted the charges against Mr. Paxton — specifically, a new subpoena to the attorney general’s office and a letter to Parker Mr. Stone ordered him to preserve a document the committee called “Matter A”.

“In addition to Ken Paxton’s alleged illegal conduct, the committee is conducting a thorough review of the incidents related to the firing of the whistleblower,” spokeswoman Cait Wittman said late Tuesday. “The minutes of the committee meeting show that a subpoena has been issued. Mr Paxton’s statement today was nothing more than a last-ditch effort to save face.

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

The aides — Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley, James Blake Brickman and David Maxwell — are all former deputy attorneys general, and Mr. Maxwell is a former director of the office’s law enforcement division. They told investigators Mr Paxton may have committed crimes such as bribery and abuse of position. They also sued Mr. Paxton; the case is pending.

Mr. Paxton has asked the state to pay $3.3 million to settle the lawsuit. Mr. Phelan has said he does not think the House has the votes needed to approve the payment; he has also said he does not personally support it.

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

Several Republican lawmakers who were consulted for comments on Tuesday declined to discuss the subject of Mr. Paxton’s allegations. Rep. Chris Turner, a Dallas-area Democrat, said the attorney general was the “last person” who should call on “anyone to resign” because of the allegations against Mr. Paxton.

“This is a guy who’s been indicted multiple times and, according to the FBI, is trying to overturn the presidential election,” he said. “So Ken Paxton should mind his own business.”

david montgomery Reporting from Austin, Texas.

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