On Tuesday afternoon, Paxton posted a letter to the House General Investigations Committee asking that it look into whether Phelan was drunk on the House floor Friday night after video of Phelan slurring his speech began making the rounds online. Around the same time, Paxton also posted a note to his Twitter calling on Phelan to resign, writing in part, “Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House in a state of apparent, debilitating intoxication.”
So far, Phelan has yet to publicly address the video. When reached by phone by the Observer earlier this week, a representative from Phelan’s office declined to comment on the video.
Soon after Paxton’s Tuesday tweets, it was made known that a House committee would welcome testimony against Paxton on Wednesday regarding what The Texas Tribune called “allegations of a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions by Attorney General Ken Paxton, the result of a probe the committee had secretly authorized in March.”
Speaker Dade Phelan should resign. pic.twitter.com/ZD920VOt1X— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) May 23, 2023
Although this week’s back and forth is attention-grabbing, this conflict has been in the making for months. As far back as February, Phelan expressed his opposition to using taxpayer money to fund the $3.3 million settlement Paxton’s office reached in a whistleblower lawsuit against the AG. That settlement was one of the items investigated by the House committee and discussed on Wednesday.
“Many of the allegations were already known, but the public airing of them revealed the wide scope of the committee’s investigation into the state’s top legal officer and a member of the ruling Republican Party,” The Texas Tribune report stated. “The investigative committee has broad power to investigate state officials for wrongdoing, and three weeks ago the House expelled Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, on its recommendation.”
As the hearing was underway, Paxton called into Dallas radio station 660 AM to speak with conservative host Mark Davis. He quickly began bashing Phelan over the possibility the speaker might’ve been drunk in the viral video.
“Look, there’s been rumors for years,” Paxton told Davis. “I’ve seen other instances of it. It’s pretty common knowledge there’s a lot of drinking going on down on the House floor and that he’s a part of it. Given the fact that we’ve gotten so many issues passed out of the Senate, whether its election integrity, which I care deeply about, the issue with the Chinese owning property in Texas, whether its school choice, they don’t have time to get to those issues. But they have time to have their little parties on the House floor.”
The Observer reached out to Paxton’s office to find out how he knew about Phelan’s alleged drinking history, as well as to ask why, if he has known about Phelan’s rumored behavior on the House floor for a long time, he has not called for the speaker’s resignation before now? Our voicemail and email with those questions went unanswered.
During his interview with Davis, Paxton claimed his current beef with Phelan isn’t politically motivated. When Davis pushed back against the AG, noting that neither Phelan nor anyone else has confirmed that alcohol was to blame for the viral video, Paxton interrupted the host saying “There’s a history. People know. If you’re down there, you know this is not uncommon.”
Later in the radio interview, Paxton, without a detectable hint of irony or any acknowledgement of how his comments might come across, complained that Phelan has been avoiding him. He also expressed confusion over why Phelan would oppose the state paying for his lawsuit’s settlement with taxpayer money. Paxton even found a way to bring it all back to perhaps his favorite topic: allegedly rigged elections.
“I called for a meeting with the speaker’s office, but I haven’t been able to get one this whole session,” Paxton said. “I’ve left him messages. I’ve asked him to fix this election integrity issue so I can go prosecute voter fraud because Dallas County, Harris County, Bexar County and Travis County are all going to cheat, and we’re not going to be able to do anything about it.”
The House investigating committee could recommend Paxton be impeached, but the AG has proven to be rather bulletproof over the course of his time in public office. Although he’s been entangled in a number of legal problems, including currently being under indictment for securities fraud, he easily won reelection in 2022.
Phelan continues to say very little publicly. Texas Monthly reported that Phelan’s spokesperson provided a statement regarding Paxton’s latest attacks on the speaker.
“The motives for and timing behind Paxton’s statement today couldn’t be more evident,” Phelan spokesperson Cait Wittman said in the statement. “Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face.”
A little after noon on Wednesday the House General Investigating Committee adjourned without announcing a decision regarding Paxton. The AG said during his radio interview that he has asked the same committee to investigate Phelan’s behavior, but he isn’t feeling hopeful.
“Those are guys the speaker has appointed,” he said. “My guess is they will ignore my letter and they will not do a similar investigation of him.”