Texas Senate vote to acquit Paxton ends impeachment saga, but not his legal troubles

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted Saturday on all articles of impeachment related to allegations of corruption and abuse of office. The historic Senate vote closes the chapter of a three-month saga that has highlighted stark divides within the state’s Republican Party.

The Saturday vote, which followed a two-week trial in which senators acted as jurors, allows Paxton to return to work after being suspended in May. None of the votes on each impeachment article came close to the 21 votes needed to sustain it. It would have taken only one article to permanently remove Paxton from office.

A serious tone lingered over the room as senators each took turns casting their ballots, one-by-one, article-by- article. Rain and thunder from a late-summer storm could occasionally be heard outside the Texas Capitol. Paxton did not attend the session but issued a statement after, calling the House impeachment a “kangaroo court.”

”Today, the truth prevailed,” Paxton said. “The truth could not be buried by mudslinging politicians or their powerful benefactors. I’ve said many times: Seek the truth! And that is what was accomplished.

“The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle (political) differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt. Now that this shameful process is over, my work to defend our constitutional rights will resume.”

After the acquittal, lawyers for Paxton called the impeachment a “joke.”

“It was a joke for us to have to go through this, that is Ken Paxton, his family, as well as the senators and everyone else,” Cogdell told reporters.

Attorney Tony Buzbee thanked Paxton’s legal team and said he’s proud of the case they presented. “This was a Herculean task, to put together a defense when we really didn’t know what we were defending,” he said.

But the acquittal by the Senate does not mark the end of Paxton’s legal troubles. He is still under a felony indictment for securities fraud from 2015, and federal prosecutors have reportedly taken grand jury testimony a former aide who testified during the impeachment trial.

It’s unclear how Saturday’s decision will impact the federal probe into Paxton, if at all.

“I don’t speak for the FBI,” said Dan Cogdell, one of Paxton’s attorneys in the impeachment trial. “I try not to.”

And as for the securities fraud case: “Those people ought to think about going forward on that case,” said Cogdell, who represents Paxton in that matter.

“That’s been a BS case since day one,” he said. “That case, like this one, should have never been brought. They ought to dismiss it. If they don’t dismiss it, we’ll try them and beat there just like we beat him here.

The extraordinary impeachment proceedings, in which the Republican-controlled legislature weighed whether to oust a powerful and influential leader within its own party — as well as a fervent ally of former President Donald Trump — was fraught with consequences for the future of GOP politics in Texas.

Politics were clearly a factor, said Royce West, a Dallas Democrat whose district includes part of Tarrant County.

“The question is, did it outweigh the oath of office?” he said. “You’ve got to ask each individual that question. It did not outweigh my oath of office.”

Sen. Kelly Hancock, a North Richland Hills Republican, was among two senators who voted to convict Paxton on some of the articles.

“It was my constitutional obligation to seek the truth based on the facts made available through witness testimony and all documents admitted into evidence, then vote accordingly,” Hancock said in a statement. “My vote on each article reflects that responsibility, and none was taken lightly.”

Sen. Tan Parker, a Flower Mound Republican, voted against sustaining the articles. He said he meticulously analyzed hours of testimony and documents and concluded the attorneys for the impeachment managers did not prove Paxton’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence didn’t warrant overturning a democratic choice made by Texas voters, he said in a statement.

The impeachment trial also highlighted tension between leadership of the Texas House and Senate. Both chambers have a Republican majority.

After the Senate vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presided over the trial, lambasted the House for what he characterized as a reckless and wasteful rush to impeach Paxton. He said he will push to amend the state constitution to change the rules for such procedures and demand an audit of taxpayer money spent by the House.

House Speaker Dade Phelan pushed back.

It’s “extremely unfortunate” that after hearing the impeachment managers’ evidence, the senators declined to remove Paxton from office, he said.

“To be clear, Patrick attacked the House for standing up against corruption,” he said. “His tirade disrespects the constitutional impeachment process afforded to us by the founders of this great state. The inescapable conclusion is that today’s outcome appears to have been orchestrated from the start, cheating the people of Texas of justice.”

Rep. Andrew Murr, a Junction Republican and House impeachment manager chair, maintained that the lawyers and House members who presented the case showed “considerable, uncontested, controverted evidence of Mr. Paxton’s corruption.”

Paxton, elected in 2015 and now in his third term, was accused of abusing his office to benefit Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and political donor. The House voted 121-23 in late May to send articles of impeachment to the Senate.

The articles before senators included charges of disregard of official duty, constitutional bribery, conspiracy and attempted conspiracy, misapplication of public resources, misappropriation of public resources, dereliction of duty, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust.

Paxton denied wrongdoing, pleading not guilty at the trial’s start. He did not take the stand, nor did he attend his trial except for part of the first day and the closing arguments. His lawyers during the Senate trial delivered fiery questioning of witnesses to raise doubts about the evidence.

The House impeachment managers acting as the prosecution tried to build a case that Paxton gave Paul legal help while accepting from him home renovations and a job for a woman with whom he was having an affair.

Whistleblowers had reported the alleged misconduct to the FBI. Some of the former employees filed a lawsuit claiming they were retaliated against. Paxton tried to get the state to pay a $3.3 million settlement using taxpayer dollars, which prompted the legislative probe.

Some of the former employees watched from the Senate gallery as the lawmakers announced their decision.

House impeachment manager Rep. Andrew Murr, left, speaks at a press conference after Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted of all charges in his impeachment trial at the Texas Capitol on Saturday, Sep. 16, 2023.
House impeachment manager Rep. Andrew Murr, left, speaks at a press conference after Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted of all charges in his impeachment trial at the Texas Capitol on Saturday, Sep. 16, 2023.

“Mr. Paxton’s attorneys like to remind everyone that he was elected by 4.2 million voters,” Rep. Andrew Murr said in his closing argument for impeachment, “but they have blindly ignored the fact that he ultimately ended up serving one person: himself.”

Paxton was accused of enlisting an outside attorney to investigate complaints Paul had about legal troubles he was facing. Paxton also allegedly intervened in a lawsuit between Paul and a nonprofit organization and gave Paul access to information that wasn’t public.

The prosecution also argued Paxton took steps to hide his misconduct, using an encrypted messaging app and “burner” phones.

I believe that I was a witness to criminal activity that had occurred by General Paxton,” testified Ryan Vassar, a former deputy attorney general who reported Paxton to the FBI and sued the office.

Attorneys for the House impeachment managers called more than a dozen witnesses before resting their case Wednesday. Paxton’s attorneys called four witnesses Thursday before resting. Buzbee, one of Paxton’s attorneys, argued Friday the case against Paxton is based on assumptions and jumping to conclusions.

“You know what my dad used to tell me, assumptions make an ass out of you and me, and that’s been this entire case,” Buzbee said.

Paul believed he was being targeted by law enforcement, namely through the alteration of search warrants for his home and businesses, according to testimony throughout the trial. Whistleblowers and other witnesses have said the claims were a conspiracy, but Paxton’s attorneys have questioned why they weren’t investigated more in-depth by those in the attorney general’s office at the time.

Buzbee says Paxton just wanted find the truth.

“This guy thought he was being targeted by the FBI,” Buzbee said. “He can identify with that. Heck, we see it here.”

The attorneys have disputed that Paxton took bribes and have maintained that the Paxtons paid for their own home renovations. At one point, Buzbee showed a witness financial documents and photos of Paxton’s kitchen, pressing him on whether there were any changes to countertops and cabinetry.

The witness, Paxton’s former personal aide, said it appeared not. The prosecution suggested perhaps Paxton decided to forgo the upgrades when he realized he was under scrutiny.

Buzbee also argued that Paul’s hiring of a woman Paxton is accused of having an affair with was not a bribe; rather, she applied for a job that she got on merit.

The woman, Laura Olson, was called to testify by the prosecution but was deemed “unavailable,” reportedly intending to plead the Fifth Amendment.

Sen. Angela Paxton of McKinney, the attorney general’s wife, was required to be present for the proceedings but did not have a vote on whether to convict or acquit. Her office did not immediately return a request for comment.

She did share a Bible verse in a social media post:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”