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Ken Paxton's top assistant will act as Texas attorney general, for now

State law bars impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton from serving while the Senate debates whether to expel him from the office.

DALLAS — Ken Paxton's second-in-command will act as attorney general while the Texas Senate considers whether to remove Paxton, who was impeached by the House, from office. 

Brent Webster, Paxton's top assistant, told his colleagues "the day-to-day operations of the agency will continue smoothly" in a memo sent this weekend. 

Webster ascended to the role when Paxton fired the whistleblowers who spoke out about the same matters lawmakers impeached him for. 

"The state of Texas has no better elected official than Ken Paxton defending citizen's rights, fighting for justice, and preserving freedom," Webster wrote. "You can rest assured that the executive team will continue to work tirelessly."

The letter reads a bit like a resume, University of Texas at San Antonio political scientist Jon Taylor said. Webster touted his and Paxton's success suing the federal government, in particular. 

"Definitely a little braggadocios, if not just outright, in-your-face, saying, 'We're Ken Paxton's shop and we're going to stay that way,'" Taylor said. "If you want to talk about continuity, Webster is continuity for Paxton." 

Webster was intimately involved in Paxton's attempt to overturn the 2020 election. But in 2022, a state judge threw out the state bar's attempt to punish Webster for his role in the effort. 

Gov. Greg Abbott could appoint an interim attorney general, though that move might be seen as an endorsement of Paxton's expulsion. 

The governor has not publicly weighed in on the matter.

"Abbott might want to just stand firm for right now and not say anything or do anything," Quorum Report editor Scott Braddock said. 

But Braddock and Taylor each noted the governor could effectively handpick the frontrunner for the 2026 Republican nominee for attorney general if he chooses to name an interim. 

Having an ally in the attorney general's office would benefit Abbott, whose current term ends in 2027. Texas governors are not subject to term limits.  

"When the governor and the attorney general are basically in lockstep, it makes it that much easier for the governor to get done what he wants to get done," Braddock said. "If they're out-of-sync, even a little, it causes all sorts of problems for the way state government operates."

It's not yet clear when the Senate will begin Paxton's trial. They'd need to convene in a special session, separate from the one Gov. Abbott is expected to call. 

"We do have questions about which senators might have to recuse themselves," Braddock said.

Sen. Angela Paxton would serve as one of her husband's potential jurors if she does not abstain from the proceeding. Braddock also noted that Sen. Bryan Hughes is named in the House committee report lawmakers used to impeach Paxton. 

Some well-connected politicos have also floated Hughes' name as a potential replacement for Paxton. There are questions, Braddock said, about whether lawmakers who could replace the attorney general should decide his fate. 

"If you have two or more senators who recuse themselves, that would lower the number of senators needed to convict," Braddock said. "Paxton probably doesn't want a lot of Republicans to recuse themselves. That would just make things worse for him."

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