Trump’s Tirades Couldn’t Save Ken Paxton From Impeachment

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a rally in support of President Donald Trump called the “Save America Rally” in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.The Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to impeach Republican Texas attorney general Ken Paxton. Paxton, a conservative star who has made a name as a culture warrior and MAGA firebrand, was impeached on multiple articles including bribery and abuse of public trust. The impeachment vote went through easily—121 to 23—with the support of not only Texas House Democrats but also the vast majority of the chamber’s Republicans—a harsh rebuke for Paxton who has led a number of GOP court battles, including appealing to the US Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election.
Despite the heavy support from Texas Republicans to impeach Paxton, former president Donald Trump and his close allies raged against the vote. Before and after the vote, Trump posted angry invectives on Truth Social against Texas GOP legislators.
“The RINO Speaker of the House of Texas, Dade Phelan, who is barely a Republican at all and failed the test on voter integrity, wants to impeach one of the most hard working and effective Attorney Generals in the United States,” Trump complained, saying that Paxton, who has been under investigation by the FBI for years, shouldn’t be impeached because he was recently reeelected. 
Before the vote, Trump also made ominous threats that he would target Texas Republicans who voted to impeach Paxton.
“Hopefully Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed—I will fight you if it does,” Trump posted. “It is the Radical Left Democrats, RINOS, and Criminals that never stop. ELECTION INTERFERENCE! Free Ken Paxton, let them wait for the next election!”
As my colleague Tim Murphy has detailed, while Paxton has had electoral success—he is in his third term—he has been under clouds of scandal for most of his time in office.
In 2020, a group of staffers in the attorney general’s office—all conservative Republicans—grew alarmed by what they considered a pattern of unusual and unethical behavior from Paxton on behalf of a real-estate developer and major donor named Nate Paul. 
Paxton intervened in an ongoing lawsuit involving Paul, in a way that seemed designed to benefit him. Days before some of Paul’s foreclosed properties were set to be sold off, Paxton also got his office to issue a non-binding legal opinion to block the auction from happening. Paxton kept on trying to get his staff to start an investigation, on Paul’s behalf, into claims that the FBI had conducted an improper search of his properties—and when they made clear that they would not, Paxton hired a special counsel with no prosecutorial experience to do just that. At the same time, Paul had allegedly done a few things for Paxton personally—he had hired a woman that Paxton was allegedly having an affair with, and he had done some renovations at Paxton’s house. Believing that their boss might be operating “under duress,” these Paxton staffers reported the AG to the feds. Paxton promptly fired them.
And that’s just the latest scandal. As Tim wrote in a larger profile of Paxton last year, Paxton has faced legal and ethical questions since before his time in office as Texas attorney general.
The Texas GOP has been gripped by the Paxton impeachment drama for much of the last week. As news broke that a House panel investigating whether to impeach Paxton was nearing the release of a report, Paxton went into attack mode, accusing House Speaker Phelan of being drunk on the floor of the House and reportedly threatening legislators, calling them to warn of “political consequences” if they voted to impeach him.  
Texas Governor Greg Abbott—himself a popular and nationally prominent conservative—hasn’t spoken out publicly about Paxton. Senator Ted Cruz joined Trump in backing the attorney general, saying on Saturday that no other conservative has “battled the abuses of the Biden family more ferociously.”
Because of the impeachment, Paxton has now temporarily been removed from office and will face a trial in the Texas Senate—where his wife is a senator—to determine if he should be permanently removed from office.