Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton He was acquitted in his state Senate impeachment trial on Saturday, the outcome of which exposed sharp divisions within the Republican Party, which controls all the levers of government there.
The decision is a political victory for Paxton, a staunch conservative and close ally of former President Donald Trump. Paxton outlined the 16 charges he faced, stemming from allegations he repeatedly abused his office to help a donor seek political revenge.
Paxton was suspended without pay The House impeached him in MayLt. Gov. Don Patrick was reinstated to his role shortly after the vote to certify the release.
“Today, truth has won. The truth cannot be buried by mud-slinging politicians or their powerful proxies. I have said many times: seek the truth! That’s what passed,” Paxton said in a statement shortly after the vote.
Patrick — a fellow hard-line conservative and staunch Paxton ally who chaired the inquiry — applauded the decision and stormed off the dais into the House immediately after Paxton was reinstated. He called for a “full audit” of the council’s spending, which he said was a waste of “millions of taxpayer dollars”.
“The Speaker and his team have been hamstrung by the first impeachment of a statewide official in Texas in more than 100 years, while ignoring the precedent set by the House in all other impeachments,” Patrick said.
However, House members who pursued Paxton’s allegations characterized the conservative Senate’s decision as choosing to ignore the wrongdoing of an ideological ally.
Texas House Speaker Tate Bellon, a Republican, said in a statement Saturday: “After hearing and evaluating this evidence, it is extremely unfortunate that the Texas Senate has decided not to remove him from office.”
But the release is “not the end of the matter,” he added.
Texas State Senate. Brian Birdwell votes on articles of impeachment against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Senate chamber at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Eric Kay)
“Ken Paxton has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, indictments and investigations. If new facts continue to emerge, those who allowed him to be in office will have a lot to answer for,” Phelan said.
Phelan saved his sharp barb for Patrick, the lieutenant governor who also serves as president of the state Senate in Texas.
Phelan said that while Patrick had insisted that he would preside over the inquiry in an impartial manner, the lieutenant governor “admitted his bias and decided to end his disdain for the House of Commons.” ”
“To be clear, Patrick attacked the House for standing up to corruption. His abhorrence insults the constitutional impeachment process given to us by the founders of this great state,” Bellon said. “The inescapable conclusion is that today’s decision appears to have been premeditated from the beginning, cheating the people of Texas of justice.”
It was the latest exchange in a growing personal rivalry between conservatives, including Patrick and Paxton, and Phelan, a more moderate speaker. Earlier this year, Patrick referred to Belen as “California Dad.” Paxton accused Phelan of being drunk while presiding over a late-night House session, a charge Phelan denied.
A former state legislator who was first elected attorney general in 2014, Paxton rose to national prominence in court battles against then-President Barack Obama over issues including health care and immigration.
He also led an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election with a failed lawsuit aimed at throwing out the Electoral College votes of four swing states won by President Joe Biden.
But Paxton has spent his entire tenure in the attorney general’s office under a cloud of corruption, dating back to his 2015 indictment on securities fraud charges. Paxton has yet to go to trial on those charges. Meanwhile, the Justice Department took over the corruption investigation into Paxton.
The impeachment process began in 2020 after Paxton sought $3.3 million in taxpayer money to settle a lawsuit with former top employees who were fired after reporting the attorney general’s conduct to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Whistleblowers accused Paxton of using his power to benefit his political friend Nate Paul, a real estate investor who donated tens of thousands of dollars to Paxton’s campaign. In the settlement, Paxton apologized but did not admit wrongdoing or accept responsibility. He denied wrongdoing and said in a statement that he agreed to the settlement to “put this issue to rest.”
One of the articles of indictment alleged that Paxton used employees of the Attorney General’s Office to write a legal opinion to help avoid foreclosures on properties owned by Paul and his businesses.
This included a series of articles focusing on Paxton’s relationship with Paul, who hired an outside attorney who issued more than 30 grand jury subpoenas while investigating a “baseless complaint” by Paul, delaying the foreclosure of Paul’s property and benefiting from Paul. Paxton hired a woman who “had an extramarital affair.”
The criminal articles also describe what were described as Paxton’s efforts to cause “prolonged” delays in the securities fraud investigation.
Ultimately, the Texas House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton.
But he found more support in the state senate. In addition to acquitting Paxton of the 16 counts under consideration, the chamber also voted to dismiss four articles of impeachment brought by the House but not considered during the Senate hearing.
The other four articles relate to Paxton’s current securities fraud conviction.
A two-week trial began on September 5. Patrick instructed the senators to avoid any media coverage or outside discussion of the proceedings. Paxton’s wife, Angela Paxton, is a state senator and was present at the hearing, but was barred under Senate rules from voting.
The divisions within the GOP in Texas were on stark display in the closing moments of Friday morning’s hearing, as Paxton’s defense drew on Trump, former President George W. Bush and his family and many others as political persecution prompted Paxton’s impeachment.
Paxton’s defense attorney, Tony Busbee, compared the charges against Paxton to the criminal charges facing Trump, the 2024 Republican presidential front-runner.
He also portrayed Paxton as a political enemy of the Bush family. Former President George W. Bush was governor of Texas before his 2000 victory, and will run in the 2022 attorney general primary against former Texas land commissioner and son of Jeb Bush, George B. Paxton defeated Bush.
“Let’s make it known, let’s be clear now, the Bush era in Texas ends today,” Busbee said. “They can go back to Maine.”
Two days earlier, Paxton said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he sat down with former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson to “go to Maine next week to discuss the last two weeks in Texas politics.” It should be interesting! ”
But House impeachment managers said their decision to fire Paxton had nothing to do with intra-Republican politics.
Republican Rep. Jeff Leach, who, like Paxton, is one of the House impeachment managers from Collin County, said he has long been close to the attorney general and considers him a political ally.
“Karl Rove is not sitting in my office right now. It’s me, just me,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional information.