AUSTIN — Texas lawmakers revealed Tuesday a monthslong corruption investigation into Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, going public with the probe shortly after Paxton accused the GOP House speaker of being drunk on the job.
Hours after Paxton’s claim, House Speaker Dade Phelan announced the House General Investigating Committee has been looking into “alleged illegal conduct” by Paxton, who is already under FBI investigation over accusations of corruption by former staff. Phelan brushed off Paxton’s allegation as a desperate attempt “to save face.”
Both jolted the Texas Capitol near the frantic end of a legislative session that has again laid bare the raw divisions between Republicans who control every level of power in the state Capitol.
At stake for Paxton in the final days of the session is whether lawmakers will approve using $3.3 million in taxpayer dollars to settle a lawsuit brought by the attorney general’s accusers. Paxton, who also separately remains indicted on securities fraud charges from 2015, has broadly denied wrongdoing.
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Phelan has previously expressed reservations about using state dollars to allow Paxton to settle the lawsuit. On Tuesday, after Paxton accused Phelan of being intoxicated while presiding over the Texas House and called on him to resign, Phelan revealed that a House General Investigating Committee has been looking into the settlement and Paxton’s “alleged illegal conduct.”
The committee was scheduled to meet Wednesday. The scope of the House investigation is not clear but members of the committee sent a letter to Paxton ordering his office to preserve documents and communications surrounding the settlement.
“Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face,” Phelan said in a statement.
Since April, the committee has issued at least 12 subpoenas for testimony and information to people and entities as part of its probe of Paxton’s office, according to meeting minutes that note the parties were left anonymous to “prevent reprisal and retaliation.”
This month, a lawyer for the House committee began asking people questions about the allegations made in the whistleblower lawsuit by Paxton’s former staffers, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation that had not been made public.
The group that sued was among eight of Paxton’s top deputies who reported him to the FBI on accusations of bribery and abusing his office to help one of his campaign contributors, who also employed a woman with whom Paxton acknowledged having had an extramarital affair.
Paxton, a former state lawmaker, tweeted the accusations against Phelan as the House was in the middle of a marathon day of trying to pass bills before a key midnight deadline. The legislative session ends on Memorial Day.
In a tweet, Paxton accused Phelan of presiding over the Texas House “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication.” He cited no specific evidence, but the tweet came days after conservative critics of Phelan circulated video on social media that appeared to show the speaker slurring his words while presiding over the Texas House on Friday night.
Phelan’s statement did not address the video or the accusations that he was intoxicated. No House members have called for Phelan to step down.
Earlier this month, the same legislative investigative committee recommended the expulsion of GOP Texas state Rep. Bryan Slaton for inappropriate sexual conduct with a 19-year-old intern. Slaton resigned before a planned vote to kick him out.