AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted Saturday of all charges at a historic impeachment trial that divided Republicans over whether to remove a powerful defender of former President Donald Trump after years of scandal and criminal charges.
The verdict reaffirmed Paxton’s durability in America’s biggest red state and is a broader victory for Texas’ hard right after an extraordinary trial that put on display fractures within the GOP nationally heading into the 2024 elections. In the end, Paxton was fully cleared by Senate Republicans, who serve alongside his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton.
Angela Paxton was not allowed to vote. But she attended all two weeks of the trial, including the reading of the verdict, when all but two of her fellow 18 Republican senators consistently voted to acquit her husband on 16 impeachment articles that accused him of misconduct, bribery and corruption.
Ken Paxton, who was absent for most of the proceedings, did not attend the verdict. It clears the way for Paxton to reclaim his role as Texas’ top lawyer, more than three months after his stunning impeachment in the Texas House forced him to temporarily step aside.
The outcome far from ends Paxton’s troubles. He still faces trial on felony securities fraud charges, remains under a separate FBI investigation and is in jeopardy of losing his ability to practice law in Texas because of his baseless attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Senate began delivering a verdict Saturday over whether Attorney General Ken Paxton should be removed from office over corruption charges that have shadowed the Republican for years.
The early votes went Paxton’s way, with the GOP-controlled Senate acquitting him on the first 14 of 16 total articles of impeachment. Many of the votes fell mostly along party lines, with only two Republican senators voting to convict Paxton on some of the charges.
Paxton was not in the Senate chamber for what was the conclusion of Texas’ first impeachment trial in nearly a half-century. Paxton also did not attend the majority of the two-week trial.
The jury of 30 senators spent about eight hours deliberating behind closed doors before emerging for the historic vote. A two-thirds majority is required to convict Paxton on any of the charges that accuse Paxton of bribery, corruption and unfitness for office.
About 50 members of the public took seats in the gallery as the Senate chamber reopened for the vote shortly after 11 a.m. CT. Among those who staked out an early seat for the impeachment vote were three of Paxton’s former deputies who reported him to the FBI in 2020 and were key witnesses during the trial for House impeachment managers.
There was no visible reaction from the former deputies — David Maxwell, Ryan Vassar and Blake Brickman — after Paxton was acquitted on Article 6, termination of whistleblowers.
The vote could be a slow, public process. Each article of impeachment gets a separate vote. Republicans hold a 19-12 majority in the Senate, meaning that if all Democrats vote to convict Paxton, they would need nine Republicans to join them.
Deliberations started Friday, and the talks dragging out for more than a day behind closed doors fed a rare lack of assurance about how a vote might go in the Texas Capitol, where a dominant Republican majority typically means that outcomes are seldom in doubt.
The trial has plunged Texas Republicans into unfamiliar waters as they confront whether Paxton should be removed over allegations that he abused his office to protect a political donor who was under FBI investigation.
The suspense has pushed pushed Paxton, whose three terms in office have been marred by scandal and criminal charges, closer to a defining test of his political durability after an extraordinary impeachment that was driven by his fellow Republicans and has widened party fractures in America’s biggest red state. For nearly a decade, Paxton has elevated his national profile by rushing his office into polarizing courtroom battles across the U.S., winning acclaim from Donald Trump and the GOP’s hard right.
Making one final appeal to convict Texas' top lawyer, impeachment managers used their closing arguments Friday to cast him as a crook who needed to go.
“If we don’t keep public officials from abusing the powers of their office, then frankly no one can,” Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, who helped lead the impeachment in the Texas House, said in his closing arguments.
If convicted, Paxton would become Texas’ first statewide official convicted on impeachment charges in more than 100 years. A verdict could arrive later Saturday.
In an angry and defiant rebuttal, Paxton lawyer Tony Buzbee unleashed attacks on a wide-ranging cast of figures both inside and outside the Texas Capitol, mocking a Texas Ranger who warned Paxton he was risking indictment and another accuser who cried on the witness stand.
Leaning into divisions among Republicans, Buzbee portrayed the impeachment as a plot orchestrated by an old guard of GOP rivals. He singled out George P. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush who challenged Paxton in the 2022 Republican primary, punctuating a blistering closing argument that questioned the integrity of FBI agents and railed against Texas’ most famous political dynasty.
“I would suggest to you this is a political witch hunt,” Buzbee said. “I would suggest to you that this trial has displayed, for the country to see, a partisan fight within the Republican Party.”
Paxton returned for closing arguments after not attending most of the two-week trial. Sitting across the room was his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, who was required to be present for the whole trial but was barred from participating in deliberations or voting on her husband's political fate.
The case centers on accusations that Paxton misused his office to help one of his donors, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who was indicted in June on charges of making false statements to banks. Paul has pleaded not guilty.
Eight of Paxton's former deputies reported him to the FBI in 2020, setting off a federal investigation that will continue regardless of the verdict. Federal prosecutors investigating Paxton took testimony in August before a grand jury in San Antonio , according to two people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because of secrecy rules around the proceeding.
One said the grand jury heard from Drew Wicker, Paxton’s former personal aide. At the impeachment trial, Wicker testified that he once heard a contractor tell Paxton he would need to check with “Nate” about the cost of renovations to the attorney general’s Austin home.
During closing arguments, the defense told senators there was either no evidence for the charges or that there wasn't enough to rise beyond a reasonable doubt. The House impeachment managers, by contrast, walked through specific documents and played clips of testimony by the deputies who reported Paxton to the FBI.
One of the impeachment articles centers on an alleged extramarital affair Paxton had with Laura Olson, who worked for Paul. It alleges that Paul’s hiring of Olson amounted to a bribe. She was called to the witness stand but ultimately never testified. Another article alleges the developer also bribed Paxton by paying for his home renovations.
The verdict will be decided by 30 of the 31 state senators, most of them Republicans.
Paxton faces an array of legal troubles beyond the impeachment. Besides the federal investigation for the same allegations that gave rise to his impeachment, he also faces a bar disciplinary proceeding over his effort to overturn the 2020 election and has yet to stand trial on state securities fraud charges dating to 2015.
He pleaded not guilty in the state case, but his lawyers have said removal from office might open the door to a plea agreement.
Associated Press writers Jake Bleiberg in Dallas and Jim Vertuno in Austin contributed to this report.
Find AP’s full coverage of the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at: https://apnews.com/hub/ken-paxton
Paul J. Weber And Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press