Austin, Texas – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted on Saturday in the Republican Party-controlled Senate of all 16including cases of bribery, dereliction of duty and neglect of official duties.
Paxton, who was toowhen he was impeached by the Texas House will be reinstated as attorney general.
Although more than sixty Republicans in the Texas House crossed party lines to impeach Paxton in May, his grip on the Senate remained firm, with only two Republicans voting to remove him from office at any point. After the vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presided over the Senate trial and is a close ally of Paxton, said, “Millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted on this impeachment,” and blasted the House of Representatives for pushing through the impeachment.
“It should never have happened this year, and it should never happen again,” Patrick said, indicating that the Texas Constitution should be changed.
After the verdict, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who had remained mum during the impeachment trial, issued a statement in support of Paxton.
“The jury has spoken. Attorney General Paxton received due process as required by the Texas Constitution. Attorney General Paxton has done an excellent job representing Texas, especially in pushing back against the Biden administration,” said Abbott. “I look forward to continuing to work with him to secure the border and protect Texas from federal overreach.”
Paxton is a former senator and his wife,. She was not allowed to vote in the proceedings, but since she attended the trial, the state still needed 21 of 31 senators to vote to convict.
Paxton had denied any wrongdoing. He did not attend the trial except on the first day, when he pleaded not guilty. He was not present at the final vote.
Paxton is a close ally of former President Donald Trump, and the former president posted his support for Paxton ahead of the final day of the trial, calling it a “shameful impeachment.”
What was Ken Paxton accused of?
In May, the Texas State House voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton by a vote of 121 to 23. The Senate decided to hear arguments on 16 of the articles of impeachment. After he was acquitted, the Senate voted to reject the other four articles of impeachment.
The charges stem from Paxton’s involvement with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who has been charged in a separate case.
Several aides in Paxton’s office came forward in 2020, claiming that Paxton influenced employees to become involved in legal disputes that would benefit Paul and his company. In return, they said Paul provided extensive favors to Paxton, including renovating homes and hiring a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair.
Paxton’s defense tried to prove that his impeachment was merely an attempt to settle a score by political opponents in the State House and his own former aides. In his closing arguments, his attorney, Tony Buzbee, accused the Bush family — specifically George P. Bush, who challenged Paxton in a 2022 primary — of fabricating the impeachment charges.
“The Bush era ends today in the state of Texas,” Buzbee said. “They can go back to Maine.”
After the whistleblowers came forward, some resigned, but others were fired. Those who were fired filed a lawsuit in November 2020, claiming they were victims of retaliation. On February 10, Paxton announced that the attorney general’s office had settled the lawsuit for $3.3 million. On February 21, Paxton placed a line item in the budget for $3.3 million to settle the lawsuit with taxpayer money.
That request prompted the state House to open an investigation into Paxton. On May 23, the General Investigation Committee of the House of Representatives made public its investigation into the proposed whistleblower scheme. According to the committee, the settlement would prevent a trial from taking place and the details from becoming public.
On Thursday, the defense called the attorney general’s human resources director, Henry De La Garza, who testified that the whistleblowers were not fired for retaliation, but rather for “egregious” policy violations.
What happened during Paxton’s impeachment trial?
The trial featured dramatic testimony from former top Paxton aides. All conservative Republicans, they testified that they were concerned about Paxton’s relationship with Paul. Paxton’s former top lieutenant, Jeff Mateer, testified that part of his job was to protect the attorney general, but he failed.
Paxton publicly called the whistleblowers “rogue.” His lawyers questioned why the whistleblowers took their concerns to the FBI and not Paxton.
Witnesses said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Texas was promoting a policy of opening up, Paxton allegedly rewrote the state’s policy to bar foreclosures — a policy that appeared to benefit Paul. Former Deputy First Assistant Ryan Bangert testified that Paxton’s insistence was “bizarre” and that he “acted like a man with a gun to his head.”
“I believed, based on my experience over the past nine months, that the Attorney General had abdicated his obligation to work on behalf of the interests of the people of Texas and to serve the interests of one person – Nate Paul,” Bangert said.
Former deputy attorney general of legal counsel Ryan Vassar, meanwhile, testified that Paxton pressured him and Bangert to provide legal opinions that would have prevented the foreclosure of some of Paul’s property during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What does this have to do with Paxton’s alleged affair?
Paxton’s defense tried to separate the affair allegations from the articles of impeachment. The ninth count alleged that Paxton “benefited from Nate Paul’s employment of a woman with whom Paxton had an extramarital affair.” Paxton was acquitted 18-12 at that point.
On Friday, attorney Tony Buzbee said, “We know why they mentioned Laura Olson,” the woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair. “They want to shame him.”
“If this impeachment is about marital impropriety, get in line,” Buzbee said.
Olson herself was called to the stand Wednesday morning, though her appearance was subsequently postponed and then canceled for undisclosed reasons.
Mateer, Paxton’s former top aide, testified that the alleged affair is “relevant” to the allegations because it “answered one of the questions I continued to struggle with.”
“Why would General Paxton jeopardize all this great work we have done at the Attorney General’s Office,” Mateer continued. “Why would he engage in these activities on behalf of one person, all these different things?”
Paul allegedly hired the woman with whom Paxton had an affair, and Paxton allegedly paid for an apartment in Austin for her.
Paxton’s former chief of staff, Katherine “Missy” Cary, testified in the second week of the trial about the impact of Paxton’s alleged affair on the attorney general’s office.
“The ethics advice in 2018 was that when you try to keep things secret when you’re a statewide elected official running for office, it can be ethically, legally and morally challenging — and it started to spill over into the people in the office,” Cary said.
According to Cary, around 2018 there were complaints in the office of security and travel records regarding hours and conducting out-of-state business, such as the alleged affair. Furthermore, Cary said Angela Paxton regularly called the office to ask about her husband’s schedule or where he was, leading to complaints from the office employees that they felt “uncomfortable.”
Cary said that one day at lunch she ran into Paxton, who was with the woman he was allegedly having an affair with, and he called her his real estate agent. Cary also testified that in the summer of 2018, she confronted Paxton, who confirmed the affair. She said he was “remorseful” and “listened very carefully to what I had to say” about the “ethical implications” of having an affair.
“There are ethical risks, there are political risks, there are legal risks… these things can expose someone to bribery and abuse of office, abuse of state time,” she said.
Cary recalled the 2018 meeting with Paxton and his wife with top aides. Cary said “my heart broke” for Angela Paxton. Cary told senators she thought he had ended the affair, but she learned in 2019 that the matter was still ongoing. Cary testified that she spoke to him again about the alleged affair, but Paxton was “frantically upset” and said he “still loved the woman” he was allegedly having an affair with.
“Imagine if we impeached everyone here in Austin who had an affair — we’d be charging for the next 100 years,” Buzbee said. Cary declined to comment. ‘The fact that someone is having an affair doesn’t mean he or she is a ‘criminal’, does it? That would be incredibly hypocritical, wouldn’t it, if someone were to say, “This man is a criminal because he had marital indiscretion?” “
Cary replied that she wouldn’t say anything like that.
Paxton’s former top aide Andrew Wicker, described as a “second son” of Paxton, testified Thursday about the alleged affair.
What are the criminal charges against Paxton, and is that case affected by the impeachment?
Paxton was indicted in 2015 by a Collin County, Texas, grand jury on two first-degree felony counts of securities fraud and a third-degree felony count of failure to register. He has pleaded not guilty and successfully delayed a trial in the case while in office.
The impeachment case is completely separate from these allegations, and Paxton continues to face a trial on these charges.
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