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Ken Paxton blasts fellow Republicans and floats Cornyn challenge in post-impeachment interview


Ken Paxton blasts fellow Republicans and floats Cornyn challenge in post-impeachment interview

Sep 20, 2023 | 10:27 pm ET
By Zach Despart
Ken Paxton blasts fellow Republicans and floats Cornyn challenge in post-impeachment interview
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at a campaign event during a Bulverde Spring Branch Conservative Republicans meeting in 2022. Paxton criticized President Joe Biden’s immigration policies, discussed voter fraud in Texas and praised the leaked SCOTUS draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade. Now he says the Biden Administration was behind his impeachment case. (Kaylee Greenlee Beal for The Texas Tribune)

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Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday alleged without evidence that the Biden administration, working in cahoots with certain Texas Republicans, was behind the failed attempt to impeach him on charges of bribery and corruption.

In his first remarks since being acquitted by the Texas Senate on Saturday on 16 articles of impeachment, Paxton blasted fellow conservatives who he believes betrayed him and the party, including House Speaker Dade Phelan, former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and the all-Republican Court of Criminal Appeals.

Paxton excoriated Cornyn as a poor representative for Texans and said a strong candidate needs to challenge him in 2026 — adding that he may be the man to do so.“Everything’s on the table for me,” he said when former Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested he should run. Paxton was particularly critical of what he said was Cornyn’s failure to protect Texas from undocumented immigrants.

“I can’t think of a single thing he’s accomplished for our state or even for the country, let alone the fact that we have a massive invasion into our state and he doesn’t speak out against it,” Paxton said. “I’ve never seen him propose legislation that significantly affects it.”

Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Cornyn provided a response he gave to another reporter Thursday who asked about a potential challenge from Paxton. Cornyn said he was busy focusing on other issues, including "trying to get President Biden to do his job at the border."

During the 47-minute interview posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Carlson and Paxton did not discuss at length the substance of the impeachment case against the attorney general. Paxton said he believed the impeachment was retribution for lawsuits he filed challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election in several states as well as lawsuits Paxton filed challenging Biden’s policies.

“We were a huge problem for the Biden administration, and that was a way to get me out of the way,” Paxton said.

He noted that two of the lawyers who worked on the impeachment prosecution had worked for the federal Department of Justice during Biden’s term.

“That’s not an accident,” Paxton said. “They were sent there.”

The Texas House, which voted to impeach Paxton in May, alleged that the attorney general repeatedly abused his office by helping a friend, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, delay foreclosure sales of his properties, investigate and harass enemies and acquire private records about the police investigating him. In return, they charged that Paul provided Paxton’s paramour a job and paid to renovate the attorney general’s Austin home.

Paxton said he was eager to speak over the summer but noted he was barred by a trial gag order imposed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. He accused House impeachment managers of violating the order by leaking damaging information to reporters while he could not reply. He said they also were in touch with Rove, who published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal predicting Paxton would be convicted.

Paxton said he agreed with Carlson’s characterization that Rove, the architect of Bush’s two gubernatorial and two presidential campaigns, as a “activist liberal working effectively for the Biden administration.” He said Rove’s influence in Texas politics has diminished. He also accused Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, which donates to members of the Legislature, of being involved in the behind-the-scenes moves to impeach him — a theme that his defense attorneys floated often during the trial.

“As we have said from the beginning, we did not know about the House investigation of Ken Paxton until the public did, we did not know about the House articles of impeachment until the public did, and we were subject to the Senate’s gag order throughout the trial in the Senate,” said Lucy Nashed, a spokesperson for the group.

Paxton said it was unfair that impeachment automatically suspended him from office before he had a chance to defend himself. He said he supported Patrick’s call to amend the state constitution to make impeachment and removal from office more difficult.

Rove and the House impeachment managers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Paxton lampooned the House impeachment process, which played out publicly in less than a week during the end of the legislative session, as rushed and flawed. He claimed that the House Committee on General Investigating, which began its probe into the attorney general secretly in March, hid the investigation from one of its three Republican members until May.

Paxton accused Phelan of presiding over the House while drunk this spring, a charge he first made when the investigative committee announced he was under investigation. Carlson played a widely circulated clip of the speaker slurring his words during a late-night session, and then suggested Phelan has an alcohol addiction. A spokesperson for Phelan declined comment.

Paxton’s criticism of the Court of Criminal Appeals was rooted in the justices’ ruling last year that the attorney general cannot unilaterally prosecute voter fraud, one of his top priorities. Instead, the agency can do so only at the request of local district attorneys.

“We prosecuted voter fraud, and we had plenty of it, and now, guess what? There’s no prosecution of voter fraud,” Paxton said

There is no evidence of widespread election fraud in Texas, though election integrity has been a priority of many Republican elected officials. An audit of the 2020 election in four of the largest counties confirmed the election was secure.

With the trial behind him, Paxton said he was eager to get back to work."I'm re-energized to do the things the voters sent me to do,” he said.