Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a three-term Republican, was acquitted by the state Senate on Saturday following a two-week trial that featured substantial evidence of alleged corruption relating to a wealthy friend and an extramarital affair.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) officially reinstated Paxton as the state’s top law enforcement officer at the trial’s end.
Paxton had been suspended since May when the Republican-dominated House voted overwhelmingly to impeach him by a vote of 121-23.
In a statement, Paxton declared that “the truth prevailed” at the trial, supposedly brought by “mudslinging politicians” and “their powerful benefactors,” despite the fact that many of the politicians trying to oust him were from his own party.
“Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment,” Patrick said after Paxton’s acquittal, adding that he planned to call for an audit of all spending on the impeachment proceedings by the legislature.
Paxton could count on having more allies in the Republican-dominated state Senate, where his wife, Texas state Sen. Angela Paxton (R), represents a suburban district outside Dallas. She was required to attend every day of the trial, although she was barred from deliberations and votes.
Her recusal made the bar to convict her husband slightly higher, with 21 senators required to oust him instead of 20.
A conviction on any one of the 16 articles of impeachment meant the attorney general would be permanently booted from office. With 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans in the state Senate, a conviction also meant persuading at least nine of the Republicans to join all of the Democrats.
It was a tall order. None of the articles received more than 14 “yea” votes.
Ken Paxton has long skirted allegations of corruption and wrongdoing in Texas politics.
He has yet to stand trial in a securities fraud case more than eight years after being charged with the felonies in 2015. Last fall, he ran out of his house and jumped into a truck driven by his wife to dodge a federal subpoena. Perhaps most bizarrely, he was caught on security footage around a decade ago pocketing a $1,000 Montblanc pen left behind on accident by another lawyer passing through courthouse security.
The impeachment trial revolved around his relationship with Texas real estate developer Nate Paul, whom Paxton was accused of helping through improper use of his public position.
After the FBI raided Paul’s office in 2019, Paul had been trying to convince Paxton to investigate the investigators, alleging a vast conspiracy against him. Paxton helped Paul secure subpoenas against the judges, federal agents and bank executives who were in his sights by hiring outside counsel on Texas taxpayers’ dime.
The outside counsel, a young lawyer named Brandon Cammack, testified that once he realized Paxton had used him, it felt like he’d “gotten the rug pulled out from me,” the Texas Tribune reported.
In 2020, several of Paxton’s employees were subsequently fired after reporting to the FBI their concerns about their boss’ relationship with Paul, who had donated $25,000 to Paxton’s second campaign and was allegedly covering Paxton’s home renovations.
The whistleblowers reached a $3.3 million settlement agreement, but nothing has been paid out because of disagreement over the use of public funds.
The situation grew more complicated by Paxton’s affair with a woman who worked for Paul named Laura Olson; Paxton faced a charge of bribery in the state Senate over the relationship. Patrick, who served as the trial’s judge, said both sides agreed Olson would not testify, according to The Associated Press.
Former staffers testified that Paxton’s affair put a strain on the office.
An attorney for Paxton, Tony Buzbee, defended his client with a quip: “Imagine if we impeached everyone in Austin who had an affair. We’d be impeaching people for the next 100 years.”
Impeachment managers from the Texas state House called around 20 witnesses, mostly former aides to the attorney general’s office. Texas state Rep. Andrew Murr (R) told the Senate chamber that Paxton “betrayed us and the people of Texas.”
Buzbee used his closing statements to declare that the impeachment amounted to a “political witch hunt” by people who “don’t like Ken Paxton.”
“This trial has displayed, for the country to see, a partisan fight within the Republican Party,” Buzbee said. “It’s a battle for power.”
A former friend of Paxton’s, state Rep. Jeff Leach (R), directly responded to Buzbee’s claim as part of the impeachment managers’ closing statements.
“Mr. Buzbee, you said in your closing that we’re here because we hate Ken Paxton, and you could not be more wrong. I have loved Ken Paxton for a long time,” Leach said. “We’ve traveled together, attended church together, attended countless Cowboys and Baylor football games together. Heck, we’re both former Baylor student body presidents. I’ve block-walked for Ken. I’ve donated to Ken ― supported Ken. I’ve asked others to do the same.”
Regardless of his previous support, Leach added that Paxton’s behavior went too far, and he had to do what was right.
“I believe that it is right, as painful as it might be for us and for you, to vote to sustain the articles of impeachment commended to you by the Texas House of Representatives,” Leach said.
Paxton said on social media that he planned to travel to Maine next week to discuss the trial on former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s web series.
“It should be interesting!” he wrote.
Federal prosecutors charged Paul in June for lying to banks to secure loans; he pleaded not guilty.