AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted Monday on three felony counts of securities fraud. Here’s a closer look at what the case against him means.
WHAT CHARGES DOES HE FACE?
All of the charges relate to activities before Paxton was elected attorney general last fall.
Two of the charges are first-degree felonies accusing the 52-year-old Republican of engaging in fraud by facilitating the sale of more than $100,000 in stock in a tech startup based in his hometown of McKinney. Prosecutors say Paxton didn’t disclose to investors that the company would compensate him if they bought stock and that it had already given him 100,000 shares to help it land investors.
One of the complaints against Paxton was from investor and fellow Republican state Rep. Byron Cook of Corsicana.
Those charges carry punishments of five to 99 years in prison.
The other charge, a third-degree felony, accuses Paxton of rendering services as an investment adviser without being registered with the state. That charge carries a penalty of two to 10 years in prison.
Paxton’s attorney, Joe Kendall, says the attorney general will plead not guilty.
CAN PAXTON BE REMOVED FROM OFFICE?
He can be removed by impeachment, which would require the state House to bring charges and the state Senate to conduct a trial. This would be completely separate from the legal criminal case.
The Legislature doesn’t reconvene until 2017 and even then, House members would have to get creative to bring charges. A state law passed in 1993 bars elected officials from being stripped of their offices for acts that occur before they take office.
COULD PAXTON RESIGN?
There is no indication that he will. After Paxton was booked Monday in McKinney, a Dallas suburb, Kendall said the attorney general would return to Austin “to focus on his work on behalf of the citizens of Texas.” The state Republican Party urged Paxton to fight the charges as hard as he has “relentlessly pushed back against an overreaching federal government.”
State Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said Paxton should resign to “spare Texas the embarrassment of a drawn out legal fight.”
ARE FELLOW REPUBLICANS SUPPORTING PAXTON?
Top political allies haven’t exactly rushed to his defense. Gov. Greg Abbott, who was Texas’ attorney general for 12 years before becoming governor in January, said in a statement that he recognizes “this is the first step in a lengthy process” and that he “will respect that process as it moves forward.”
Sen. Ted Cruz has been even more conspicuously quiet. The tea party firebrand and GOP presidential hopeful praised Paxton last year as a “tireless conservative warrior,” but has said nothing publicly about the allegations against him.
Paxton’s former colleagues in the Legislature, where he spent 12 years, have been mostly quiet. However, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick noted that “an indictment is not a conviction.”
HOW UNUSUAL IS IT FOR A STATEWIDE OFFICEHOLDER TO BE INDICTED IN TEXAS?
Not that unusual. Four statewide officeholders have been indicted in the past four decades. Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry was still governor when he was indicted last summer on felony coercion and abuse of power charges. One of those charges was recently dismissed while the other may yet reach trial.
Republican state Treasurer Kay Bailey Hutchison, later a longtime U.S. senator, was indicted in 1993 on official misconduct and records tampering charges, but eventually acquitted. In 1983, Democratic Attorney General Jim Mattox was indicted for commercial bribery and also acquitted. In 1982, Treasurer Warren G. Harding was indicted on two felony official misconduct charges and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
Two-term Attorney General Dan Morales had left office by the time he was indicted on 12 felony counts in 2003. The Democrat later pleaded guilty to steering millions of dollars from Texas’ $17 billion tobacco settlement to an attorney friend and served most of a 4-year federal prison sentence.