AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas House committee revealed Tuesday it was investigating the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton over his push for $3.3 million in taxpayer dollars to settle a whistleblower lawsuit from former deputies who had accused Paxton of misconduct.
The news came hours after Paxton called on the House speaker, Dade Phelan, to resign over alleged drunkenness while leading the House, a remarkable moment of acrimony between two of Texas’ top Republicans.
Phelan’s office fired back, noting the investigation has been going on since March.
“The motives for and timing behind Paxton’s statement today couldn’t be more evident,” Phelan spokesperson Cait Wittman said in a statement. “Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last ditch effort to save face.”
In a brief public meeting Tuesday afternoon, the House General Investigating Committee unanimously voted to issue subpoenas in “Matter A,” which it has been investigating for weeks. One of the subpoenas was for a “John Doe No. 6” and the other was for Paxton’s office.
The committee also issued a letter to Paxton’s office asking it to preserve all evidence related to the investigation. That letter told Paxton the committee “has been conducting an investigation related to your request for $3.3 million dollars of public money to pay a settlement resolving litigation between your agency and terminated whistleblowers.”
In February, Paxton reached a $3.3 million settlement with four former deputies who claimed they had been fired in retaliation for reporting Paxton’s alleged misconduct to federal investigators. Lawmakers in both chambers have balked at authorizing taxpayer dollars to pay for it and Phelan himself has said he personally opposes it.
Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the news of the investigation. But about two hours before Murr’s announcement of the subpoenas, Paxton took to Twitter to abruptly call for Phelan’s resignation, accusing him of presiding over his chamber “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication.” Paxton also asked the House General Investigating to probe Phelan.
Over the weekend, a video clip went viral that showed Phelan slurring his words while overseeing House floor proceedings Friday night.
“After much consideration, it is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislation session,” Paxton said in a statement posted on Twitter. “His conduct has negatively impacted the legislative process and constitutes a failure to live up to his duty to the public.”
The 44-second video clip of Phelan began circulating on social media over the weekend. It was pushed by Phelan’s intraparty critics, including former state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford. It was also the subject of anonymous text messages deriding Phelan as “Drunk Dade.”
Phelan’s defenders noted he seemed to speak normally before and after the clip. They also noted that the people pushing the video, like Stickland, may be out for revenge after the House voted to expel one of their political allies, ex-state Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City.
The House ousted Slaton after an investigation by the General Investigating Committee found he engaged in sexual misconduct with a 19-year-old aide.
Paxton has battled his own ethical problems for years. Months after taking office in 2015, he was indicted for securities fraud linked to private business deals in 2011. More recently, he came under FBI investigation after top deputies accused him of abusing his office to help a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
In addition, the State Bar of Texas’ Commission on Lawyer Discipline sued Paxton in 2022, accusing him of engaging in professional misconduct by making dishonest claims when he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election victories in four swing states. Paxton’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit is before the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals.
In his statement calling for Phelan’s resignation, Paxton also criticized the House for failing to “pass critical conservative priorities including protecting the integrity of our elections and preventing Chinese spies from controlling Texas land.” The regular legislative session is winding down — the last day is Monday — and those were among the proposals that fell victim to a bill-killing deadline Saturday in the House.
Paxton shares political ties with Slaton, the ousted lawmaker. A top campaign contributor to both has been Defend Texas Liberty PAC, the Stickland-run group that is mostly financed by conservative megadonors Tim Dunn and the Wilks family.
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