Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
A Republican state senator who voted to acquit Ken Paxton in his impeachment trial last year wants the Senate to consider restarting proceedings now that the attorney general is no longer fighting the whistleblower claims in court that were central to the trial.
The bombshell request came in a letter Thursday from retiring state Sen. Drew Springer to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his Senate colleagues.
“At this stage, and the point of this letter, I am asking the Senate whether there is a legal mechanism to reopen the impeachment proceedings,” Springer wrote. “Failure to at least consider this possibility runs the risk of AG Paxton making a mockery of the Texas Senate.”
Springer’s letter came days after Paxton announced he would not contest the facts of the whistleblower lawsuit in an attempt to end it without having to testify under oath. The lawsuit was filed in 2020 by a group of former top deputies who said they were improperly fired for telling federal authorities they believed Paxton was abusing his office to help a wealthy friend and donor, Nate Paul.
Paxton’s recent reversal in the whistleblower lawsuit was especially striking because one of the articles of impeachment that he was acquitted on alleged that he violated the Texas Whistleblower Act. Springer wrote that Paxton “completely changed his position in less than four months.”
A spokesperson for Patrick, who served as judge in the trial, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Paxton dismissed Springer's letter in a statement to the Tribune.
"Springer has to leave the senate because he was such a bad senator, wasn’t going to get re-elected, and needed a job," Paxton said. "Why should anyone listen to his sour grapes."
In a radio interview Friday morning, Springer insisted he would still be speaking out if he was running for reelection. Springer, who is taking over his father's business, noted he was leaving the Senate to "go make an honest living."
"I guess I didn't realize how to profit on public service like [Paxton] has," Springer told the host, Mark Davis.
Springer declined to say whether he had heard back from Patrick but said he has since heard from "numerous" Senate colleagues who are "very supportive." He did not name them.
After Springer released his letter on Thursday, a Democratic senator who voted to convict Paxton, Sen. Sarah Eckhardt of Austin, said on X that she supports "reopening the impeachment proceedings" in light of Paxton's latest legal maneuvering.
In his latest move to end the lawsuit, Paxton also said he would accept any judgment, potentially opening up taxpayers to more than the $3.3 million sum that was in a tentative settlement deal last year. Springer said Paxton has “essentially written a blank check” at the taxpayers’ expense and that he should have to answer questions under oath if he seeks any funding approval from the Legislature.
Despite his reversal, Paxton has not been able to wriggle out of the lawsuit in Travis County district court. As of now, he is required to sit for a deposition on Feb. 1.
Springer’s letter comes as he is freer from political consequences than most of his GOP colleagues because he is not seeking reelection. But his term is not over until January 2025, giving him a voice in the Senate for nearly another year.
Springer was one of 16 GOP senators who voted to acquit Paxton on all impeachment articles — and keep him in office — at the trial in September. Springer seemed especially conflicted with the decision after facing political threats in his solidly red district.
Springer said in the radio interview he stood by his initial decision to acquit Paxton, saying he was responding to the facts at the time and that House lawyers "did not reach the standard" for conviction.
"I did my job," Springer said.
In the race to succeed Springer, Paxton has endorsed Carrie de Moor, a Frisco emergency room physician who surfaced as a potential challenger while the trial was still underway. Springer is backing one of de Moor’s rivals, Brent Hagenbuch, the former Denton County GOP leader. Patrick has also endorsed Hagenbuch.
Springer brought up the race during the radio interview, saying he doubts Paxton's endorsement has an impact.
"I just don’t think that the voters respect somebody that used a fake Uber account to cheat on his wife," Springer said, referring to one of the allegations Paxton faced from House investigators.