Simmering tensions erupt between top Texas state Republicans
By Eric Bradner, CNN
(CNN) — Just days after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton accused the state House speaker of presiding over the chamber while drunk and called on him to resign, a GOP-led state House ethics panel heard explosive testimony from investigators detailing what they described as years of misconduct by the attorney general, later recommending his impeachment unanimously.
The five-person committee filed 20 articles of impeachment with the Texas House on Thursday. The chamber is scheduled to vote on the articles Saturday afternoon, according to a House memo obtained by CNN.
The week’s events marked an eruption of simmering tensions between two of the top Republicans in the most populous red state.
The remarkable outburst of public acrimony has been years in the making. Paxton, a more conservative figure who aligned himself with former President Donald Trump and used his office to challenge the 2020 presidential election results, has long cast House leadership as too liberal.
His attacks on state House Speaker Dade Phelan are a vivid window into a political environment where Republicans control all levers of state government but are split into multiple factions battling for power and influence.
Paxton on Tuesday posted on Twitter a letter to the state House General Investigating Committee, the chamber’s ethics panel, asking for an investigation into Phelan for performing his duties in what Paxton described as “an obviously intoxicated state.”
Paxton’s call for Phelan’s resignation came after video circulated on social media over the weekend of Phelan appearing to slur his words as he presided over the House chamber at the end of Friday’s late-night session.
Paxton did not present any evidence beyond the video clips to support his claim that Phelan was drunk.
“It is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislative session,” Paxton said in a statement posted to his Twitter account. “Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication.”
Less than an hour later, the state House General Investigating Committee – a panel that investigates corruption in state government and has the power to initiate impeachment proceedings – revealed it had subpoenaed records from Paxton’s office as part of an investigation Phelan’s office said started in March. within days, it moved to recommend the 20 articles.
Paxton slammed the process following the impeachment recommendation.
“Just yesterday, four liberals put forward a report to the House General Investigating Committee based on hearsay and gossip, parroting long-disproven claims. Today, that Committee has asked the Texas House of Representatives to use their unsubstantiated report to overturn the results of a free and fair election,” Paxton said in part in a Thursday statement.
“This process provided no opportunity for rebuttal or due process. They even refused to allow a senior attorney from my office to provide the facts. They rejected every attempt to seek a full accounting of the truth,” he continued.
Phelan’s office said Paxton’s allegation was merely retaliation for the House ethics panel’s probe.
“Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last ditch effort to save face,” Phelan communications director Cait Wittman said in a statement Tuesday.
Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales said that the broader context of Friday’s all-day session made clear that Phelan “was not under the influence.”
“At that point in the night the House had been in session over 13 hours and we had been doing so for multiple days in a row. We were all exhausted,” Canales said in a statement. “Nevertheless, I had multiple interactions with the speaker throughout the day and that night and I can say unequivocally he was not under the influence.”
The acrimony between Phelan and Paxton underscores the personal and ideological tensions within the GOP as the party approaches its 2024 presidential primary.
Phelan has also clashed in recent months with another more conservative Republican official, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, over property tax relief, school choice and other key issues.
The state House hearing is the latest in a string of legal troubles for Paxton. CNN has previously reported that he was facing an FBI investigation for abuse of office and that Justice Department prosecutors in Washington, DC, took over the corruption investigation. He is also under indictment for securities fraud in a separate, unrelated case. Paxton has denied all charges and allegations.
On Wednesday, a team of lawyers working with the House ethics panel spent three hours laying out details of allegations of misconduct against Paxton spanning years.
The probe began in March after Paxton sought to use $3.3 million in state dollars to settle a whistleblower lawsuit after four former employees of the attorney general’s office accused him of using his authority to benefit political friend Nate Paul, a real estate investor who had donated tens of thousands of dollars to Paxton’s campaign. In the settlement, Paxton apologized but did not admit fault or accept liability. He denied wrongdoing and said in a statement he had agreed to the settlement “to put this issue to rest.”
As the hearing took place on Wednesday, the Texas Tribune reported that Paxton called into Dallas radio host Mark Davis’ show and criticized the investigation.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
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CNN’s Andy Rose and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.