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Texas GOP leaders in feud over alleged drinking on the job and ‘illegal conduct’

State Attorney General Ken Paxton called on House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in Houston on Aug. 5, 2021.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is under investigation by a state House committee.Brett Coomer / Houston Chronicle via Getty Images file

Infighting among top Texas Republicans spilled out into plain view after Attorney General Ken Paxton called on the state’s House speaker to step down over accusations that he was drunk during legislative proceedings — allegations that came a day before the chamber heard testimony about the criminal accusations against Paxton.

Paxton, who remains under indictment over accusations of securities fraud charges from 2015, accused Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan of being “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication” on the job after a video of Phelan appearing to slur his speech while presiding over the chamber Friday went viral.

“After much consideration, it is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislative session,” Paxton said in a statement Tuesday. “Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication. His conduct has negatively impacted the legislative process and constitutes a failure to live up to his duty to the public.”

Later Tuesday, Paxton posted an image of a letter asking the House General Investigating Committee to look into Phelan’s “conduct unbecoming his position.”

In a statement, Phelan’s spokesperson, Cait Wittman, characterized Paxton’s allegations as politically motivated, noting that the House General Investigating Committee has been investigating “events tied to the firing of the whistleblowers in addition to Ken Paxton’s alleged illegal conduct” since March, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“The motives for and timing behind Paxton’s statement today couldn’t be more evident,” Wittman said, the Chronicle reported. “Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face.”

The GOP-led committee met Wednesday to discuss the allegations against Paxton, with investigators telling the panel there was evidence that the state attorney general had repeatedly broke the law the years, including misuse of official information, abuse of official capacity and retaliation, according to the Associated Press.

Paxton was sued by four of his former aides in 2020. They alleged that he fired them in retaliation for reporting him to federal law enforcement for allegedly taking bribes and using his office to help one of his campaign contributors. The parties reached a settlement of $3.3 million in the lawsuit, but the Texas Legislature has not agreed to fund it using taxpayer dollars.

Phelan previously voiced opposition to Paxton’s request for the state to pay $3.3 million to settle the lawsuit.

“I don’t think it’s the proper use of taxpayer dollars,” Phelan said during an interview in February.

Paxton pleaded not guilty to the charges from 2015, which still have not gone to trial. He also made no admission of wrongdoing to the accusations of bribery and abuse of office, which he has denied for years and called politically motivated. His and Phelan’s offices did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment on Paxton's allegations against Phelan and the House committee's investigation of Paxton.