Paxton defends drinking accusations against Phelan, House investigators recount alleged misconduct by Paxton
AUSTIN, Texas - A day after calling for House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign for allegedly drinking on the job, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is defending those claims.
On the Mark Davis Show on 660am The Answer Wednesday morning, Paxton said statewide leaders are "fed up" with Phelan.
"I'm not the only frustrated statewide leader. I'm just the only one that's saying something now," he said. "But if you could privately talk to grassroots people, state party leaders, state elected leaders, almost everybody I talked to is incredibly frustrated. And I just decided after the weekend thinking about this that I was going to say something about this."
Video of Phelan slurring his words at the end of a marathon House session Friday went viral over the weekend. On Tuesday, Paxton called for an investigation in Phelan and asked him to step down at the end of the legislative session.
Paxton claimed, without proof, that it's "not uncommon" for Phelan to be intoxicated while leading the House.
Some have raised concerns that Phelan could have been having a medical episode.
"I haven't heard him say that. If it's true, put out the medical evidence," said Paxton.
Phelan's camp argued that Paxton is using the video as a way to distract from a public hearing on an investigation into the attorney general on Wednesday.
For better than three hours, seasoned attorneys told the GOP-controlled House General Investigating Committee multiple times and multiple ways Paxton did not follow the law.
It began with firing four OAG employees who expressed concerns about his actions to the FBI. They were whistleblowers protected by state law.
"Each of these four men is a conservative Republican civil servant," said investigator Erin Epley. "Interviews showed that they wanted to be loyal to General Paxton, and they tried to advise him well and strongly. And when that failed, each was fired after reporting General Paxton to law enforcement."
The current investigation stems from the settlement reached between Paxton and the whistleblowers.
$3.3 million that, because it involves taxpayer funds, must be approved by the Texas legislature. So far, it’s been blocked by Phelan.
The Paxton probe revealed he broke laws to help a campaign contributor named Nate Paul, who donated $25,000 to Paxton and gave a job to a woman Paxton had an affair with. The committee was told Paxton took extraordinary steps to help his friend.
"I ask that you look at the pattern and the deviations from the norm, questions not just of criminal activity, but of ethical impropriety and for lacking in transparency," Epley said. "I ask you to consider the benefits."
"I have no idea why they've chosen to do this. We settle cases all the time," Paxton said on the Mark Davis Show. "If they didn't want to pay it, it's in their hands to whether pay it or not pay it. We knew that, so this is a level that is shocking to me, especially from a Republican House."
The committee learned almost everyone interviewed during their dive into Paxton feared what might happen.
Committee Chairman Republican State Rep Andrew Murr wanted clarity. Epley told the chairman independent of one another all but one person interviewed feared retaliation.
"That is absolutely accurate," Epley said.
Rice University political scientist Mark Jones says Paxton's opponents revealed most of the allegations during the primary.
"I suspect privately a majority of Republican elected officials would like Ken Paxton to resign," he said. "However, that's very unlikely since the attorney general has no shame and also knows that his best defense against criminal prosecution and other liabilities is remaining as attorney general."
But the public hearing Wednesday shined a new light on the alleged corruption.
Most of the allegations center around Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer who was under federal investigation and is a big Paxton campaign donor.
Investigators say Paxton abused his power to help in Paul’s multiple legal troubles. When a search warrant was issued against Paul, he filed an open records request for the documents.
The FBI and DPS recommended the files not be released, but investigators say Paxton obtained the documents, and this is what happened next.
"At some point, Ken Paxton gives a manila envelope to an aide that then drives that envelope to Nate Paul’s business in Austin," said State Rep. Ann Johnson. "Then at some other point, grand jury subpoenas are issued asking for information into people that potentially would have been in that report."
After the delivery, Paul no longer requested the documents from the government.
Another allegation is that Paxton hired an outside counsel on his own, something the AG's office almost never does.
Brandon Cammack was hired, and investigators say Paxton set aside $25,000 in taxpayer funds to compensate Cammack. It’s unknown how much he was actually paid. Investigators say Paul recommended Cammack to Paxton.
The investigators say Cammack used a made-up position title of special prosecutor of the office of attorney general.
"The attorney general himself chose to hire an attorney with five years of experience based on the recommendation of Nate Paul’s attorney, gave that attorney some job title that doesn’t exist and somehow gave him the authority to issue 39 subpoenas to go after business interest for an individual and law enforcement who is investigating that individual," said Chair Rep. Andrew Murr.
After the hearing, the committee met in executive session and took no votes.
Speculation surrounds whether the committee will now recommend articles of impeachment against Paxton.
The governor could call an impeachment special session, which Jones says isn’t likely.
The speaker could call an impeachment vote if 50 members sign on or a majority of representatives call for a vote.
Jones says Paxton's repeated successful campaigns show his popularity with many Republicans and makes this a tough situation.
"It’s one thing to provide a detailed review of all Attorney General Paxton's misdeeds over the past decade. It's another thing, though, for Republican lawmakers who have to go compete in a 2024 Republican primary to vote for articles of impeachment in the House and then vote to impeach the attorney general in the Senate as well as the court," Jones said.
Two hours into hearing how Paxton allegedly abused his power and the office of the attorney general, Houston Democrat Ann Johnson asked Epley, "Is it fair to say the OAG's office was effectively hijacked for an investigation by Nate Paul through the attorney general Ken Paxton?"
"That would be my opinion," Epley said.
Speaker Phelan has publicly opposed using the state budget to pay the settlement.
Paxton responded to the investigation on the Mark Davis Show.
"This is what they have time to do, as opposed to some of the important things like school choice or fixing the fact that the Court of Criminal Appeals struck down my ability to prosecute voter fraud. That's what frustrates me, that this is where they're spending their effort," Paxton said.
After the hearing, Paxton put out a statement that includes, "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."
Paxton called the testimony false, misleading and reprehensible. He said every allegation is easily disproved.