AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The GOP-dominated Texas Senate acquitted fellow Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday, putting him back in office and showing no political damage after a two-week impeachment trial on allegations of corruption.
The impeachment charges centered on allegations that Paxton improperly used the powers of his office to protect Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who was indicted in June on federal charges of making false statements to banks.
The trial reached its final stages Friday after closing arguments from the bipartisan group of House managers prosecuting Paxton and the attorney general's defense lawyers.
“We discovered unprecedented abuse in the Texas attorney general’s office by Mr. Paxton,” said state Rep. Andrew Murr, a Republican. “He has betrayed us, and the people of Texas.”
In a fiery defense, Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee insisted the House had not proved their case and called the impeachment a “political witch hunt.”
“There is shame here, and the shame sits right there” Buzbee said, pointing at the prosecution table. “That they would bring this case, in this chamber, with no evidence.”
The jury is made up of 30 mostly Republican senators. They met for about eight hours Friday without emerging for a vote, then returned to the Capitol on Saturday morning, where they voted to acquit Paxton on all 16 articles of impeachment he faced.
A look at what happened so far and what comes next:
House Republican impeachment managers and Paxton's defense team were each given 24 hours over the last two weeks to present evidence.
The House managers spent their time trying to methodically lay out their corruption case. An initial witness list of more than 100 names was whittled down to about 20. Most were former Paxton aides who were suspicious of his business relationship with Paul and his romantic one with Laura Olson, who worked for Paul.
They detailed their concerns about Paxton’s efforts to help Paul, burner phones and arguments over who paid for kitchen countertops in Paxton’s home renovation project.
They told of taking their concerns to the FBI and how Paxton's extramarital affair might explain why Paxton seemed so determined to help Paul fend of the federal investigation that would eventually lead to Paul's indictment on fraud charges.
“I witnessed Attorney General Ken Paxton do brazen things on behalf of Nate Paul. He abused the entire office of the attorney general of Texas to benefit Nate Paul," former Deputy Attorney General Blake Brickman said, “and it got worse and worse and worse.”
Defense attorneys called four of Paxton’s current employees who testified they have seen Paxton do nothing wrong and are proud to work for him.
The dramatic moment the trial did not get: testimony from Olson. The relationship was considered central to the bribery charge. Olson came to the Capitol on Wednesday and was called as a witness, but ultimately did not have to take the stand.
Olson's exit deflated a potentially dramatic afternoon as she didn't have to face televised, public questioning about the relationship as Paxton's wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, sat in the room.
Ken Paxton returned to the trial Friday for the first time since the opening day and listened to the closing arguments. He was not required to attend the proceedings.
THE SENATE JURY
The Texas Constitution set the 31-member Senate as the impeachment trial jury and all were required to attend. But only 30 determined Ken Paxton's fate.
Angela Paxton was barred from voting or participating in deliberations because of her conflict of interest as the attorney general's wife.
A conviction would have required a two-thirds majority, or 21 votes, of the 31 members present. Anything short of that means acquittal.
Republicans hold a 19-12 Senate majority. The best case scenario for House impeachment mangers was for all nine Senate Democrats to vote to convict Paxton and that nine Republicans would join them.
In the end, no more than two Republicans voted yes on any one charge. The voting to acquit Paxton one-by-one on 16 charges of misconduct, bribery and corruption took more than an hour.
Democratic Sen. Royce West said the deliberations, which were done in private, were not combative.
“There were some of them that were going to vote no from the very beginning. But the great majority had an open mind,” West said.
Paxton's political career is intact. After being suspended since his May impeachment, he's reinstated to his job and maintains his status as a darling among conservatives nationally.
He backed Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory and filed numerous lawsuits against the Biden administration. Like Trump, Paxton has claimed he was the victim of a politically motivated investigation. His defense attorneys have even suggested a Republican plot to oust him.
But Paxton still faces serious risk on three fronts: an ongoing federal investigation into the same allegations that led to his impeachment; a disciplinary proceeding over his effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election; and felony securities fraud charges dating to 2015.
Paxton's impeachment has fractured the Texas Republican Party. A Republican-majority House voted overwhelmingly to impeach him, while mostly Republican House managers led the prosecution.
Paxton is just the third state official to be impeached in Texas’ nearly 200-year history, and the first statewide officeholder since former Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917, who resigned the day before he was convicted.
Find AP’s full coverage of the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at: https://apnews.com/hub/ken-paxton
Jim Vertuno, The Associated Press