In a historic vote that will have long-term consequences for the Republican Party in Texas, senators who served as jurors in Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial acquitted the attorney general of charges of taking bribes and using his office to Austin businessman. legal proceedings that Paxton is facing.
The verdict, handed down Saturday after a two-week trial in the Senate chamber, clears the way for Paxton, a three-term Republican, to return to a position he has used to advance an ultraconservative agenda that has brought national acclaim from the far right.
Paxton, first elected attorney general in 2014, had been suspended without pay since May 27, when the Texas House voted overwhelmingly in the final days of the legislative session to approve 20 articles of impeachment following a months-long secret investigation. Sixteen of the articles tried in the Senate alleged bribery and abuse of office in Paxton’s relationship with a campaign donor, prominent Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
This impeachment trial, the first of a statewide officeholder in more than a century, reverberated beyond Texas and sparked infighting in the Republican Party after 60 of the 83 Republicans in the House of Representatives supported the effort to pass articles of impeachment to help move forward.
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Late Wednesday, former President Donald Trump called for Paxton’s acquittal on the social media site Truth Social, accusing moderate Republicans of trying to overturn the results of last November’s election in which Paxton received about 4 million votes.
“Who would replace Paxton, one of the STRONGEST and BEST attorneys general in the country?” Trump wrote.
Paxton also announced in recent days that he had agreed to a sit-down interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson at his home in Maine to “discuss the past two weeks in Texas politics.” It must be interesting!”
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Many of the allegations against Paxton have been public since 2020, when eight former deputies in his office filed a complaint against him with the FBI. Four of the aides subsequently filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the agency, prompting this year’s Texas House investigation into a request by Paxton for the Legislature to fund a $3.3 million settlement to settle the lawsuit to solve.
The trial dripped with political clout, with Paxton’s supporters launching an online campaign against two unlikely allies they consider responsible: Democrats and weak conservatives labeled RINOs — Republicans in name only. In the lead-up to the trial, Defend Texas Liberty, an ultraconservative political action committee, contributed $3 million to the campaign of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the trial’s judge. The group also promised political retaliation for members of the House of Representatives who voted in favor of impeachment.
During the trial, Paxton’s former deputies testified that in 2020, Paxton repeatedly circumvented established agency policies by intervening in Paul’s legal affairs, including launching a counterattack against the FBI and other law enforcement agencies investigating Paul for financial crimes . Paul was later indicted on eight counts of mortgage fraud.
In response, Paxton’s attorneys presented evidence showing that Paxton acted within his legal and statutory authority, launching a broad conspiracy alleging that the deputies were in cahoots with outside forces, including Governor Greg’s office Abbott and Paxton’s former political opponent, George P. Struik.
Whistleblowers, fraud and Nate Paul: A timeline of the impeachment trial of Texas AG Ken Paxton
In legal circles, the trial was seen as a battle between some of the state’s most decorated lawyers. Paxton’s defense team included Houston attorneys Tony Buzbee, a former Houston mayoral candidate and current candidate for City Council in that city, and Dan Cogdell, a prominent white-collar attorney who also represents Paxton in a federal bond fraud case. They were joined by Dallas attorney Mitch Little and six attorneys from the attorney general’s office who took a leave of absence to assist Paxton, their boss.
Leading the prosecution were legal legends Rusty Hardin and Dick DeGuerin, both from Houston, who together handled some of the biggest cases in more than 100 combined years of law practice.
Paxton, 60, did not attend the trial except for a brief appearance on opening day, September 5, when Buzbee entered a not guilty plea on Paxton’s behalf on all counts as the attorney general stood nearby. Paxton then returned Friday for closing arguments.
The process was similar to that of a criminal proceeding, in that the standard for a conviction was beyond a reasonable doubt: the highest standard of guilt in Texas courts. The difference was that the senators did not have to reach a unanimous verdict. Conviction under an article of impeachment required the support of two-thirds of eligible senators, or 21 of the 30 members. The difference was also that the verdict could not be appealed.
Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, was excluded from the vote but required to attend every day. Her removal from the ballot left the Senate with 18 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
Angela Paxton was spared an awkward moment Wednesday when a woman with whom her husband allegedly had an affair arrived at the Capitol to testify but was later deemed “unavailable” after House prosecutors and the defense team agreed to prevent her from taking a stand. That woman, a former Capitol staffer named Laura Olson, has been at the center of a bribery charge as prosecutors say Paxton got her a job at Paul’s company. If she had testified, Olson was expected to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
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Another bribery charge related to a home renovation in Paxton that prosecutors say was paid for by Paul and delivered by a contractor associated with Paul.
Now that the impeachment trial is over, Paxton is moving on to other legal matters.
Perhaps the most serious ongoing action against Paxton is an ongoing federal investigation into his connection to Paul. In August, the American-Statesman reported that federal prosecutors in San Antonio had empaneled a grand jury to review such evidence. During the impeachment trial, Paxton’s former chief of staff, Missy Cary, testified that she testified before a federal grand jury in 2021.
In a separate case, a Houston judge overseeing Paxton’s eight-year-old securities fraud indictment recently told his attorneys and prosecutors to be ready for the February trial. That case, in which Paxton is accused of making investments in a company without disclosing that he was paid, forms the basis of four articles of impeachment that the Senate has suspended and will be considered at a later date.
Paxton also faces two complaints with the Texas State Bar — one related to the impeachment, and the other for citing false evidence in challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election in four battleground states.
This is a development story.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton acquitted in impeachment trial