A Republican-led ethics committee in the Texas House of Representatives unanimously agreed to adopt articles of impeachment against Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday.
The recommendation by the five-member panel of the House Committee on General Investigating comes after Paxton was accused of committing multiple crimes while in office. A two-month probe culminated in a bombshell hearing on Wednesday in which investigators presented evidence of corruption and abuse of office.
Investigators began scrutinizing Paxton, around whom scandals and misconduct allegations have swirled since he first took office in 2015, in March after he requested $3.3 million in state funds to help settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by four of his former employees.
Among other things, the probe turned up evidence that Paxton used his office to provide confidential FBI documents to a donor, covered up a potential sex scandal, and retaliated against aides who reported his misconduct.
They concluded that the evidence and testimony collected would support at least a dozen criminal charges against Paxton, including felony offenses. (He was indicted on felony charges of securities fraud in 2015, and is being looked at in a separate corruption investigation by the FBI.)
“It curls my mustache,” said Rep. Andrew Murr (R), the House committee’s chair.
Before the committee announced its decision on Thursday, Christopher Hilton, Paxton’s litigation chief and assistant attorney general, rushed into the room to interrupt the meeting, according to a reporter for the Dallas Morning News.
Hilton, who declined to confirm to reporters whether he’d been sent by Paxton, insisted he be allowed to testify. He claimed that “the facts” laid out in Wednesday’s hearing “had been reported for years. For years.” He said that voters had been fully aware of Paxton’s alleged ethical breaches when they re-elected him last fall.
Over Hilton’s protestations, Murr shook his head, according to the Texas Tribune. The committee—which is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats—went into a closed door executive session almost immediately and returned to vote less than an hour later.
The Morning News reported that Hilton continued his bluster to reporters outside, saying, “This committee is trying to undermine the will of the voters by investigating him without so much as reaching out to us to participate in the process.”
After Murr files a formal recommendation on Thursday evening, the state House could hold an impeachment vote as soon as Friday, according to the Associated Press. The current legislative session ends on Monday.
If the House votes for impeachment, Paxton would then face a trial in the state Senate over whether to remove him from office. He would be barred from performing his official duties as soon as proceedings begin.
Paxton, 60, is currently serving his third term as the state’s most powerful lawyer, and has repeatedly demonstrated he won’t be ousted without a fight.
In a fierce statement on Wednesday, he accused the committee of attempting to “sabotage my work as Attorney General,” saying, “Every allegation is easily disproved, and I look forward to continuing my fight for conservative Texas values.”
He also singled out Republican Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, whom he blasted as “liberal.” The day prior, he accused Phelan of performing his duties while “in an obviously intoxicated state” and called for his resignation.
Paxton did not issue an immediate public comment on the panel’s new recommendation.
Only two Texas officials have ever been impeached in the state’s two centuries of existence, the last in 1975. No state Legislature has impeached an attorney general.