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As the Texas House moved toward impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton this week, Gov. Greg Abbott kept his distance. But now that the House has voted to impeach, he could soon have a major choice to make.
The House vote means Paxton is immediately suspended from office pending a trial in the Senate. It’s up to Abbott to decide whether to appoint someone to temporarily fill the vacancy.
Abbott has stayed silent on the matter all week. And his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday evening after the 121-23 vote.
The silence has been noticed. Late Saturday, Donald Trump declared in a post on Truth Social that the governor was "MISSING IN ACTION!"
"Where is the Governor of Texas on his Attorney General's impeachment?"
Meanwhile, Brent Webster, Paxton's top deputy in the attorney general's office, said in an email to staff on Saturday that he will lead the agency while Paxton deals with the impeachment proceedings.
Abbott himself is a former attorney general, preceding Paxton in the seat. And he has built deep connections in the conservative legal world and is known to lean on former aides for high-profile appointments.
He’s named five Republicans to the state Supreme Court during his tenure: Jimmy Blacklock, Rebeca Huddle, Jane Bland, Brett Busby and Evan Young. Blacklock served as general counsel for Abbott prior to moving to the court.
If Abbott chooses to temporarily place someone in Paxton’s seat, he faces all kinds of considerations, including whether to pick someone who would be just a placeholder until the next election.
The list of people interested in the job may include Paxton’s 2022 primary opponents: former Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and former U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler. Former state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Tyler, also briefly entered the race, but he dropped out after Gohmert entered the race.
Abbott has largely avoided extensively commenting on Paxton’s legal problems over the years. In 2020, when former Paxton deputies first came forward with allegations that Paxton was abusing his authority, Abbott said he was concerned but declined to comment further until the completion of any investigation. He never said anything again about the matter.
The governor never took sides in Paxton’s hotly contested Republican primary last year. But going into the contest, he said Paxton was doing a “very effective job” as attorney general.
Texas House leaders have insisted that the Paxton investigation began because he asked the Legislature to authorize a $3.3 million state-funded settlement with his former staff members who he fired after they accused him of accepting bribes. House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, was the first Republican to voice opposition to using taxpayer dollars for the settlement.
At the time, Abbott did not go as far as to say he opposed the arrangement, but he said he expected Paxton to make his case to the Legislature.
“It may or may not even reach my desk, but as Speaker Phelan made clear, this is an issue that the attorney general is going to have to fully explain to both the House and the Senate,” Abbott told The Texas Tribune in February.
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