Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a three-term Republican, was acquitted Saturday by the state Senate after a two-week trial that featured substantial evidence of alleged corruption related to a wealthy friend and an extramarital affair.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (right) officially reinstated Paxton as the state’s top law enforcement officer at the end of the trial.
Paxton had been suspended since May, when the Republican-dominated House voted overwhelmingly to impeach him by a vote of 121-23.
In a declarationPaxton declared that “the truth prevailed” at the trial, allegedly brought by “confused 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 were wasted on this impeachment,” Patrick said after Paxton’s acquittal, adding that he planned to seek an audit of all spending on the impeachment proceedings by the Legislature.
Paxton could count on more allies in the Republican-dominated state Senate, where his wife, Texas state Sen. Angela Paxton (right), represents a suburban district outside Dallas. She was required to attend the trial every day, although she was barred from taking part in the deliberations and votes.
Her recusal raised the bar to convict her husband slightly, with 21 senators needed to oust him instead of 20.
A conviction on any of the 16 articles of impeachment meant the attorney general would be permanently dismissed from office. With 12 Democrats and 19 Republicans in the state Senate, a conviction also meant persuading at least nine Republicans to join all the Democrats.
It was a daunting task. None of the articles received more than 14 “yes” votes.
Ken Paxton, center, sits between defense attorneys Tony Buzbee, left, and Mitch Little, right, during a break in Friday’s court proceedings.
Ken Paxton has long avoided accusations of corruption and wrongdoing in Texas politics.
He has yet to stand trial in a financial fraud case more than eight years since he was charged with the crimes in 2015. Last fall, he ran out of his house and jumped into a truck driven by his wife to dodge a subpoena federal. Perhaps most bizarrely, he was caught on security footage about a decade ago pocketing a $1,000 Montblanc pen accidentally left by another lawyer passing through courthouse security.
The impeachment trial revolved around his relationship with Texas real estate developer Nate Paul, who Paxton was accused of aiding through the misuse of his public position.
After the FBI raided Paul’s office in 2019, Paul had tried to get Paxton to investigate investigators, alleging a vast conspiracy against him. Paxton helped Paul obtain subpoenas against the judges, federal agents and bank executives who were in his crosshairs by hiring outside consultants at the expense of Texas taxpayers.
The outside counsel, a young lawyer named Brandon Cammack, testified that once he realized Paxton had used him, he felt like he “pulled the rug out from under me,” the Texas Tribune reported.
State Sen. Angela Paxton blows kisses toward the gallery at her husband’s impeachment trial on Sept. 6.
In 2020, several of Paxton’s employees were subsequently fired after reporting to the FBI their concerns about their boss’s relationship with Paul, who had donated $25,000 to Paxton’s second campaign and was allegedly covering up Paxton’s home renovations .
The whistleblowers reached a $3.3 million settlement agreement, but nothing was paid due to disagreement over the use of public funds.
The situation became more complicated by Paxton’s relationship with a woman who worked for Paul named Laura Olson; Paxton faced a corruption charge in the state Senate over the affair. Patrick, who served as the trial judge, said both sides agreed that Olson would not testify, according to the Associated Press.
Former staffers testified that Paxton’s relationship strained 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 will impeach people for the next 100 years.”
Texas State House impeachment managers called about 20 witnesses, mostly former aides from the attorney general’s office. Texas state Rep. Andrew Murr (right) told the Senate chamber that Paxton “betrayed us and the people of Texas.”
Buzbee used his closing statements to declare that impeachment amounted to a “political witch hunt” by people who “don’t like Ken Paxton.”
“This trial has shown, in the eyes of the country, a partisan struggle within the Republican Party,” Buzbee said. “It’s a battle for power.”
A former friend of Paxton’s, state Rep. Jeff Leach (right), responded directly to Buzbee’s request as part of the impeachment managers’ closing statements.
“Mr. Buzbee, in closing you said we’re here because we hate Ken Paxton, and you couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve loved Ken Paxton for a long time,” Leach said. “We traveled together, went to church together, attended countless Cowboys and Baylor football games together. Heck, we’re both former Baylor student body presidents. I walked for Ken. I donated to Ken: I supported Ken. I asked others to do the same.”
Regardless of his previous support, Leach added that Paxton’s behavior went too far and he needed to do what was right.
“I believe it is right, as painful as it may be for us and for you, to vote in support of the articles of impeachment recommended by the Texas House of Representatives,” Leach said.
Paxton said on social media that he plans to travel to Maine next week to discuss the trial on former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s web series.
“This should be interesting!” He he wrote.
Federal prosecutors charged Paul in June with lying to banks to secure loans; he pleaded not guilty.