The barely concealed disdain brewing for months among top Republicans in Texas burst into public view this week when the attorney general, Ken Paxton, who is under indictment, accused the speaker of the Texas House of performing his duties while drunk and called for the speaker’s resignation.
The move on Tuesday sent a shock through Austin. Then, less than an hour later, word came that Mr. Paxton might have had a personal motive for attacking the speaker, Dade Phelan: A House committee had subpoenaed records from Mr. Paxton’s office, as part of an inquiry into the attorney general’s request for $3.3 million in state money to settle corruption allegations brought against him by his own former high-ranking aides.
The Republican-controlled House panel — the Committee on General Investigating — met on Wednesday and heard three hours of detailed public testimony from its investigators who found that Mr. Paxton had very likely committed crimes, including felonies, as he abused and misused his office to help a real estate developer and donor, and retaliated against those in his office who spoke up against him.
The sordid accusations recalled an earlier era of outlandish behavior and political posturing in the State Capitol. But the tangled web of resentments and finger-pointing also highlighted a much simpler and more consequential political reality in Texas: Though they have total control over the Legislature and of every statewide office, Republicans have not always agreed on what to do with their power.
The investigators, who include former prosecutors, outlined the evidence they had collected against Mr. Paxton. As they met, the attorney general suggested on Twitter that he believed the Texas House was preparing a case to impeach him.
“It is not surprising that a committee appointed by liberal Speaker Dade Phelan would seek to disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as attorney general,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement on Wednesday aimed at his base of supporters, many of whom view Mr. Phelan as aligned with Democrats.
Mr. Paxton did not refer explicitly to impeachment, but his comment about disenfranchising voters appeared to be a reference to a possible outcome of the committee’s investigation.
The internal dissent broke into the open in dramatic fashion on Tuesday.
“It is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislative session,” Mr. Paxton said in a statement on Tuesday. “Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication.”
Mr. Paxton posted an image of a letter he sent on Tuesday asking the general investigating committee to look into possible violations.
It was just as that committee was getting ready to hold its meeting about Mr. Paxton’s case on Tuesday that the attorney general made his accusation against Mr. Phelan, 47. He did so based on video circulating online from a late-night session of the Texas House on Friday. At about the 5 hour 29 minute mark in an official House video, Mr. Phelan appears to slur his words as he is speaking.
Some people who were inside the House chamber on Friday said they did not notice any issues with Mr. Phelan’s behavior, even though his speech did sound slurred in one section of video, which came toward the end of more than 12 hours of hearings and votes overseen by Mr. Phelan that day.
Representative Jarvis Johnson, a Houston Democrat, spoke in the House just after the moment shown in the clip. He said on Wednesday that he had not noticed any unusual behavior by Mr. Phelan.
Mr. Phelan did not respond directly to Mr. Paxton’s accusations. Even so, they underscored the degree to which his leadership of the Texas House has enraged far-right lawmakers and conservative activists, a wing of the Republican Party in Texas with whom Mr. Paxton has long been aligned. They have complained that Mr. Phelan has blocked or watered down their priorities — on law enforcement at the border, public money for private school vouchers or displaying the Ten Commandments in public schools.
The Texas House has often acted as a relatively moderate Republican bulwark against the most conservative instincts of the party’s right wing, to the consternation of some in Austin and the relief of others.
The investigation into Mr. Paxton added an unusual element to the usual infighting.
Though the broad outline of the allegations presented to the committee on Wednesday were not new, the hearing was the first extensive examination of Mr. Paxton by the Republican-dominated Legislature. And it provided new details and context on Mr. Paxton’s efforts to help an Austin developer, Nate Paul, who gave Mr. Paxton a $25,000 contribution in 2018.
The investigators said that Mr. Paxton also had an affair with a woman who worked in Mr. Paul’s office, and that Mr. Paxton would punish or isolate employees who confronted him about his actions.
Mark Donnelly, a former prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said those who provided information to the investigators were often “the cream of the crop in their fields who resented Mr. Paxton’s behavior.”
“The feeling was shared, almost universal,” Mr. Donnelly said, “that the actions they were being asked to take, the positions they were being put in, the decisions made by the attorney general, sullied the office and sullied their commitments on their careers.”
As the committee finished meeting on Wednesday, hushed discussion in the hallways of the Capitol, among lobbyists and legislators, began to focus on whether the events could take a turn to something much more consequential — the impeachment of Mr. Paxton — and what the political ramifications of such a move would be for the various camps of Republicans. Few wanted to be quoted for fear of backing the wrong side of a still very unsettled situation.
The situation had a surprising feel even to longtime observers of Texas politics and its scandals.
“I would say this is as detrimental and important a scandal as we’ve seen in Texas political history,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston who is working on a book on Texas political scandals. “Not just because of what happened, but because of how long it’s been going on and how Paxton has been able to survive it.”
The controversy over whether Mr. Phelan was drunk was “fairly mild” in comparison with the allegations against Mr. Paxton, he added. “We’ve had people bilking veterans out of money, we’ve had unreported huge sums of money being transferred,” Mr. Rottinghaus said of past scandals in the state. “We’ve had some pretty serious malfeasance in Texas history.”
Much of the information and accusations against Mr. Paxton had been known for years in Texas, including the extramarital affair and actions taken to benefit Mr. Paul, who also conducted a floor-to-ceiling renovation of Mr. Paxton’s home. Despite the cloud of scandal, and an indictment in state court for securities fraud dating back to 2015, Mr. Paxton won re-election to a third term last year, largely by closely aligning himself with President Donald J. Trump and his supporters.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Phelan did not immediately respond to questions about whether the committee was laying the groundwork for Mr. Paxton’s impeachment.
On Tuesday, she said in a statement that it was recent movement in the investigation, which was begun earlier in the legislative session, that had prompted Mr. Paxton’s accusation — specifically, new subpoenas to the attorney general’s office and a letter to Mr. Paxton ordering him to preserve documents in what the committee refers to as “Matter A.”
“The committee is conducting a thorough examination of the events tied to the firing of the whistle blowers, in addition to Ken Paxton’s alleged illegal conduct,” the spokeswoman, Cait Wittman, said late on Tuesday. “Committee minutes show that subpoenas have been issued. Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face.”
Four of Mr. Paxton’s top aides took concerns about his activities to the F.B.I. and the Texas Rangers. All four were fired.
The aides — Ryan Vassar, Mark Penley, James Blake Brickman and David Maxwell — are all former deputy attorneys general, and Mr. Maxwell is a former director of the office’s law enforcement division. They have told investigators that Mr. Paxton may have committed crimes including bribery and abuse of office. They have also sued Mr. Paxton; the case is pending.
Mr. Paxton has asked the state to pay $3.3 million to settle the lawsuit. Mr. Phelan has said that he did not believe there were the votes in the House needed to approve the payment; he also has said that he did not himself support doing so.
“I don’t think it’s the proper use of taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Phelan said in a February television interview.
Several Republican lawmakers who were approached for comment on Tuesday declined to discuss the subject of Mr. Paxton’s accusations. Representative Chris Turner, a Democrat from the Dallas area, said that because of the accusations against Mr. Paxton, the attorney general was “the last person” who should call “on anyone to resign.”
“This is someone who is under multiple indictments, under an F.B.I. investigation, tried to overturn a presidential election,” he said. “So Ken Paxton ought to tend to his own affairs.”
J. David Goodman and David Montgomery