The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, has urged his supporters to protest at the state capitol when Republicans in the House of Representatives take up historic impeachment proceedings against him.
The state House has set a Saturday vote to consider impeaching Paxton and suspending him from office over allegations of bribery, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust – just some of the accusations that have trailed him for most of his three terms.
Paxton, a 60-year-old Republican, decried the impeachment proceedings as “political theater” that will “inflict lasting damage on the Texas House”, adding to his earlier claims that it was an effort to disfranchise the voters who returned him to office in November.
“I want to invite my fellow citizens and friends to peacefully come let their voices be heard at the capitol tomorrow,” he said at a news conference, without taking any questions. “Exercise your right to petition your government.”
The request echoes former president Donald Trump’s call for people to protest against his electoral defeat on 6 January 2021, when a mob violently stormed the US Capitol in Washington. Paxton, who spoke at the rally that preceded that insurrection, called his supporters to the Texas capitol on a day when the governor is supposed to deliver a Memorial Day address to lawmakers.
If impeached, Paxton would be suspended from office immediately and the Republican governor, Greg Abbott, would appoint an interim replacement.
The Republican-led committee spent months quietly investigating Paxton and recommended his impeachment on Thursday on 20 articles. Paxton has said the charges are based on “hearsay and gossip, parroting long-disproven claims”.
As reported by the Texas Tribune, four investigators, testifying before the House general investigating committee on Wednesday, described in “painstaking and methodical detail” ways in which they said Paxton violated multiple state laws.
Investigators said they believed Paxton wrongly spent official funds and misused his authority to help a friend and financial backer, the Tribune said.
Prominent conservatives have been notably quiet on Paxton, but some began to rally around him on Friday. The chairman of the state Republican party, Matt Rinaldi, criticised the process as a “sham” and urged the Republican-controlled Senate to acquit Paxton if he stood trial in that chamber.
“It is based on allegations already litigated by voters, led by a liberal speaker trying to undermine his conservative adversaries,” Rinaldi said, echoing Paxton’s criticism of Republican House speaker Dade Phelan. He said the Senate would have to “restore sanity and reason” by acquitting Paxton.
It’s unclear how many supporters Paxton may have in the House, but only a simple majority is needed to impeach. That means just a small fraction of the 85 Republican members would need to vote against Paxton if all 64 Democrats do. Final removal would require two-thirds support in the Senate, where Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a member.
The move to impeach Paxton sets up what could be a remarkably sudden downfall for one of the Republican party’s most prominent legal combatants, who in 2020 asked the US supreme court to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor. He was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, but has yet to stand trial.
When the five-member committee’s investigation came to light on Tuesday, Paxton suggested it was a political attack by Phelan, calling for his resignation. Phelan’s office brushed this off as an attempt to “save face”.
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