Home » Paxton’s Acquittal Has Nothing to Do With Justice—and Everything With Money

Paxton’s Acquittal Has Nothing to Do With Justice—and Everything With Money

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has spent his eight-year incumbency living on the political edge of scandal, was just acquitted in his historic Texas Senate impeachment trial.

The Texas Senate voted largely along party lines, with only two Republican senators bravely voting to convict on virtually all sixteen articles of impeachment. The Texas Constitution requires a supermajority vote to convict on any article of impeachment, and the impeachment prosecutors came up short on each article.

Kudos to Paxton’s lawyers, but he’s back in office thanks largely to a multi-million dollar juror intimidation campaign paid for by Defend Texas Liberty, a Texas campaign PAC funded largely by oil and gas millionaires Tim Dunn and Faris Wilks.

Dunn and Wilks, through their PAC, made generous contributions to decision-makers, paid for old-school mailers and billboards to intimidate rural Texas senators sitting as jurors in the Texas Senate Court of Impeachment, and set aside a handsome budget to pay $50 a tweet to eligible social media trolls who tweeted or posted pro-Paxton propaganda. It was common in the weeks leading up to and during the two-week trial to see hundreds of freshly enrolled members of the X community (with fewer than ten followers) who robustly defended their martyred MAGA attorney general.

Presiding Judge Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (he’s neither a lawyer nor a judge) collected a $1 million dollar campaign contribution and a $2 million forgivable loan from Defend Texas Liberty back in June before the trial, and inquiring minds want to know what the loan terms are. Whatever the terms, one thing is for sure: If the campaign contribution was made by its donors to encourage a certain outcome, and to advertise the power of their purse for any senators who stray off script, the contributions seem to have had the desired effect.

“Judge” Patrick famously put it this way: Paxton’s impeachment trial “is not a civil trial, it’s not a criminal trial, it’s a political trial.” Clearly.

Now that he’s back in office, Paxton can focus on his other legal problems. He’s been indicted for felony securities fraud and will be tried for those crimes next year in Harris County; he’s being investigated by a federal grand jury in San Antonio for felony bribery and abuse of office based on the same facts as those the Texas Senate considered; and the Texas State Bar has sued to disbar him.

Paxton’s impeachment trial acquittal and return to power echo former President Trump’s experience in office, and Paxton is now free to become the MAGA hero he aspires to be. Paxton, as if he knew the acquittal was in the bag all along, announced two days before his exoneration that he was “heading to Maine next week to sit down with Tucker Carlson to discuss the last two weeks in Texas politics. It should be interesting.”

After his acquittal, Paxton released a statement reminding everyone that he was elected by 4.2 million voters last November, and he thanked all the senators who voted his way for not overturning his election. He blamed Republican Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan for initiating this “kangaroo court” and for costing Texans millions in pursuing his impeachment. He closed by blaming the Biden administration for shredding the constitution and infringing on Texans’ rights. Now that he’s back, expect more of that.

Paxton’s plan back in office is to partner with his donors and punish anyone who supported his impeachment. The Texas Republican Party’s civil war, which began in earnest two cycles ago, will take on a new, more obnoxious tone. The need to pronounce oneself as fully aligned with MAGA conservative culture warrior dogma will be a prerequisite to success in Republican primary politics. No longer will this extremism be merely an internecine political affair, it will, for the immediate future, become state policy and do great damage to the Texas government and its people. The product of this extremism will have consequences for all our public affairs in Texas and nationally.

Elections cannot come soon enough. It will be important to test how the voters feel about restoring a man like Paxton to office. Democrats will do well to remind independent-minded voters of the facts.

This whole affair started in 2020, when Paxton’s handpicked Christian conservative deputies turned him into the FBI for multiple instances of abuse of office. Leaders from both political parties impeached him, and they steadfastly urged his conviction. Lead impeachment manager Republican State Representative Andy Murr (grandson of storied Texas Governor Coke Stevenson) invoked Governor Sam Houston’s famous admonition to “do right and risk the consequences” when he opened the impeachment trial, urging Texas senators to convict Paxton.

Paxton’s impeachment proceeding wasn’t a political stunt. The trial evidence, elicited over two weeks, clearly showed Paxton personally directed the state resources of his office to benefit Nate Paul, a private citizen and Paxton’s campaign donor. Paul convinced Paxton to dedicate state resources to investigate Paul’s allegations that the FBI, Texas Securities Board, Department of Public Safety, an assistant United States Attorney and the senior Austin federal magistrate conspired to alter a search warrant for Paul’s home, office and storage facilities from one seeking guns and drugs to one seeking documents. The conspirators allegedly altered the search warrant after it was signed by the magistrate, and Paul fantastically claimed the federal magistrate himself was in on the scheme.

Why would Ken Paxton give this man spinning wild tales of conspiracy the time of day? Evidence elicited at trial showed that Paxton sympathized with Paul’s plight because Paxton also mistrusted law enforcement.

You read that right: The evidence demonstrated that the state’s top law enforcement officer didn’t back law enforcement. Several witnesses testified that Paxton distrusted law enforcement generally because Paxton believed his securities fraud investigation and indictment were wrongful.

Paxton now has further reason to sympathize with his friend and donor: Paul was indicted in June on eight felony counts of bank fraud, and he faces a federal criminal trial next summer. Paul, like all federal criminal defendants with means, has hired a team of top defense attorneys who will explore a deal with prosecutors in exchange for evidence of others’ wrongdoing. Paxton’s ears should be burning.

Even in the afterglow of his acquittal, the San Antonio federal grand jury may indict Paxton by the end of the year based on the same facts as those presented in the impeachment proceedings.

Paxton skipped all but the opening and closing of his own impeachment trial, and curiously, he did not attend the verdict. Instead, he raised funds off the experience, claiming he will use the money to “fight” for our conservative values.

Paxton’s behavior that led to his impeachment wasn’t about promoting conservative values or beating the Democrats at the ballot box. It was about concealing his corrupt relationships. Paxton wasn’t fighting for you or me; he was fighting to save his political career.

All politics may be local, but really all politics are personal. Texas voters should be personally offended that Paxton abused his office to benefit one individual. And yet, if you want to lead in politics, you should have a servant’s heart. I’ve always understood public service to be a bipartisan American value, and, while the details of government are subject to good faith debate, I know leaders of both parties share my vision of service.

The Texas Senate’s vote today sends a different message: “Facts, conscience and doing the right thing don’t matter. Power and money are all you need to win.”

There are politicians who make their political careers about personal power and enrichment, and they’ll be damned if anyone is going to knock them off their throne. These people make life miserable for many, dividing the people, while making money off the experience. That description fits Paxton, the disgraced MAGA martyr, and now freshly-restored-to-power Texas Attorney General.


September 2023