A decade ago, at a courthouse north of Dallas, an attorney forgot his $1,000 Montblanc pen in a metal detector tray and returned to find it had been taken. A review of the surveillance footage turned up the culprit: Ken Paxton, who was a Texas state senator.
A few years later, Mr. Paxton, by then the state’s attorney general, suffered a more serious political blow when he was indicted on charges of securities fraud. Then in 2020, several of his senior staff in the Attorney General’s office accused him of bribery, corruption and abuse of office.
Mr. Paxton has managed to survive, in large part because he has played a key role as one of the most aggressive figures in the conservative legal movement. His challenges to the Obama and Biden administrations and his willingness to contest the results of the 2020 election have earned him the loyalty of Republican primary voters, and former President Donald J. Endorsed Trump’s re-election. ,
Mike Davis, a former chief counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “Ken Paxton has served as the tip of the spear on many of the legal fights that conservatives care about, whether it’s immigration or holding big tech monopolies accountable.” ” Founder of the Article III Project, a nonprofit that promotes and defends conservative judges. He described Mr Paxton’s style as “legal warfare”.
Now, facing his own political showdown in the Texas House of Representatives on Saturday, as the House prepares to vote on impeachment, Mr. Paxton has made the stakes plain for his Republican supporters.
At a news conference on Friday, he reminded them that he was “leading dozens of immediate challenges against Biden’s illegal policies” and said the “illegal impeachment plan” was playing into the Democrats’ long-term goal of removing him from office. He then called on supporters to come to the state capitol on Saturday “to come peacefully so that their voices will be heard.”
Mr. Paxton’s position at the forefront of an increasingly confident and assertive effort by conservatives to use the law to advance policy goals means that even now, as he faces opposition from some of his Republican colleagues, They count many influential voices as their defenders. In the current Republican Party.
“Few in America have done more to advance the conservative legal movement, stop the lawless Biden executive assault, and defend our shared values,” Stephen Miller wrote, who served as a top adviser to Mr. Trump. “Stand by Kane.”
“What the RINOs in the Texas State House are trying to do to Ken Paxton, America’s first patriot, is a disgrace,” Mr Trump’s son wroteDonald Trump Jr., framing Mr. Paxton’s fight with some of the same words his father used when fighting with fellow Republicans whom he views as insufficiently conservative.
Mr. Paxton has led conservative legal challenges in states across the country, particularly on immigration, where he has repeatedly challenged the Biden administration’s approach to the border. He successfully forced the administration to reinstate a Trump-era policy that forced migrants to remain in Mexico while awaiting an immigration hearing, rather than allowing them to do so in the United States.
Mr Paxton is also leading a Republican-led coalition of states that have been trying for years to end the Obama-era program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which Protects many immigrants brought to the United States as children. Exile. Proponents of DACA have said that the program opened the door for many youths to finish college and enter the workforce. Mr. Paxton and other opponents argued that it rewarded and encouraged illegal immigration. A protracted legal challenge has left undocumented young people in limbo.
Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, has filed a brief in support of some of Mr. Paxton’s cases, saying, “I’ve lost track of all the cases called Texas v. United States.”
During the Trump administration, Mr. Blackman said, Mr. Paxton often went to the defense, submitting letters and briefs in support of the Republican president when he faced lawsuits, such as the ban on travel from certain countries and DACA. To cancel
Mr. Paxton has also been active in other areas, joining challenges to gun regulations across the country and leading a coalition of 17 states in an antitrust lawsuit against Google, arguing that the company eliminated competition. had abused its market power with digital ads to do more harm to consumers. And he led a group of states challenging the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.
“He’s the strongest conservative we’ve ever had as attorney general,” said Matt Mackowiak, Republican Party chairman in Travis County, which includes Austin. “He’s been at war with the establishment for some time.”
Along the way, Mr. Paxton has made strong allies and many enemies within Democrats and his own party, who have shuddered at revelations of his various alleged misdeeds over the years, including using his office to try to hide an extramarital affair. Is. , Most of those abuses were detailed in 20 articles of impeachment presented to the Texas House on Thursday.
“My response to this is, frankly it is disappointing that it took so long for our state leadership to do something about their corruption,” said Rochelle Garza, a former Democratic candidate for attorney general who will run for Mr. Paxton in 2022. stood against. Been grappling with it for years.
When it came to the expensive pen, a spokesman for Mr. Paxton said at the time that Mr. Paxton had picked it up by mistake and later returned it. Nevertheless, his Democratic opponent in the race for attorney general in 2018 used surveillance footage in an attack ad that also referred to Mr. Paxton’s criminal indictment on securities fraud charges, a case that is still pending. . The Democrat’s ad said, “He won’t steal your pen.” Mr. Paxton won the race.
The allegations that form the basis of the articles of impeachment scheduled for a vote on Saturday at 1 p.m. have been publicly known for several years. There were several revelations in 2020, when his top aides accused him of abuse of office, mostly to benefit an Austin real estate investor who had contributed to his campaign, and reported their concerns to the FBI. The federal agency launched an investigation, but no charges were filed.
As a result, four aides, conservative lawyers and senior officials in the attorney general’s office were fired. He later filed suit.
The allegations have prompted several Republican challengers to jump into the 2022 primary race against Mr. Paxton, including George P. Bush, the grandson of former President George HW Bush, and the son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Mr. Paxton won a primary runoff against Mr. Bush with nearly 70 percent of the vote, winning nearly every county in Texas.
The impeachment process began after Mr. Paxton and his former allies said in February that they had reached a $3.3 million settlement in their lawsuit, dependent on the state paying for it. Mr. Paxton requested that the money be added to the budget, but Speaker of the House Dad Phelan said he did not believe it was a good use of taxpayer money. Instead a House committee launched an investigation into the request and the underlying allegations.
The committee’s recommendation of impeachment for “serious crimes” of Mr Paxton on Thursday marked the first official ruling that his actions warranted possible removal from office.
Mr Paxton demonstrated at his press conference on Friday that he would fight on. “The House stands ready to do exactly what Joe Biden is hoping to accomplish on his first day in office,” he said. “Break down our job, my job as Attorney General of Texas.”
Throughout the day on Friday, Republicans across Texas received text messages urging them to support Mr. Paxton. The chair of the Republican Party of Texas, a grassroots organization that often sides with establishment leaders, issued a statement calling the impeachment a “sham” that was “empowering Democrats.”
Dan Rogers, chairman of the Republican Party in Potter County, which includes the city of Amarillo, sent a text message urging people to call their representative and voice support for Paxton. Mr. Rogers said in an interview, “He stands against the overreach of the federal government and the ‘deep state’ that comes after our state sovereignty and individual sovereignty.”
On Friday, Republican members on the floor of the House could be seen talking in small groups before the session began. In one instance, two members pounced on each other who was sitting and, in a calm but loud voice, appeared to urge them not to vote.
“It’s hearsay, hearsay, hearsay,” one of them said, referring to the articles of impeachment and testimony given by House committee investigators.
Soon after, a loud bang halted conversation in the room: Sam Harless, a Houston Republican member, opened his wooden desk and then quickly closed it because there was a rubber snake inside.
Some people present in the chamber burst out laughing. Mr. Harless smiled but was slightly moved by the practical joke, which lightened the mood for a while. He said, ‘I hate snakes.
Miriam Jordan And david montgomery Contributed reporting.