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Embattled but defiant, suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton enters impeachment trial today

Tony Gutierrez
/
Associated Press

It’s been nearly half a century since Texas lawmakers considered removing an elected official from office. On Tuesday, that clock will start over once more, as the Texas Senate begins impeachment proceedings for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Paxton, a member of the Texas Republican Party’s most conservative bloc, was removed from office in May by the Texas House after an investigative committee presented the chamber with 20 articles of impeachment. They allege Paxton committed bribery and abused the power of his office, among other allegations. Paxton was ousted from the Texas House after 121 members, including 60 Republicans, voted for his removal.

The acts were tied to a real estate developer and campaign donor, Nate Paul, who the investigators said benefited from his connections to Paxton. The Texas House investigators alleged Paxton used his office to intervene in a federal investigation into Paul and asked also staff in the attorney general’s office to modify a legal opinion to benefit his friend. That came despite several top Paxton staffers and aides pleading with the attorney general to reconsider. Those top deputies eventually reported Paxton to the FBI and were subsequently fired or quit; four of them later sued Paxton under state whistleblower protections laws.

Paul has since been charged with eight federal felonies; Paxton’s attorneys have denied the charges are connected to Paxton’s case.

A historic impeachment

Paxton is in rare company as only two elected officials have been removed from office in Texas through the impeachment process: a state district judge in the 1970s and former Governor James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917.

Under Texas rules, members of the state senate will act as jurors with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presiding as the judge during the proceedings. Two-thirds of the members, 21 in all, need to vote against Paxton to permanently oust him from office. Paxton’s wife, Republican State Sen. Angela Paxton of McKinney, won’t be allowed to vote but is still counted as one of the 31 senators.

There are only 12 Democrats in the upper chamber. So, if they all vote against Paxton, they’ll still need nine Republicans to support his removal.

High-powered attorneys

The impeachment saga has brought out a who’s who of Texas legal minds who will be pitted against each other during the process.

In June, state Rep. Andrew Murr — chairman of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating that looked into the allegations against Paxton — introduced attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin as the team that will argue for Paxton’s removal.

Hardin’s resume includes being a part of the Whitewater investigation against former President Bill Clinton, representing the trust of J. Howard Marshall II against model Ana Nicole Smith, representing all-star MLB pitcher and Texan Roger Clemens on charges he lied to the U.S. Congress, and former Houston Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson.

DeGuerin’s legal highlights include defending former Republican U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians whose battle against the federal government led to the deaths of dozens of people in Waco in 1993.

Paxton retained his own illustrious team, including Houston’s Tony Buzbee. His resume includes representing former Gov. Rick Perry when criminal charges were brought against him nearly a decade ago. (The charges were dropped.) Buzbee also filed a lawsuit for $750 million on behalf of over 120 people who died or were injured at the Astroworld Festival in 2021.

What to expect during Paxton’s trial

It’s unclear how long the impeachment trial will last, although it’s expected to take up most of September, the Associated Press reported. The AP added that even if Paxton is removed from office, a separate vote would be needed to determine whether he can be permanently prohibited from holding office. That vote would also require two-thirds of the Texas Senate.

There is also a gag order in place, which has prevented most of the players — including Texas House and Senate members, witnesses and others —from discussing the proceedings with the public.

But there have still been small glimpses of what is to be expected. Late last month, state senators met behind closed doors but did not consider any pending requests from Paxton’s attorneys, including those seeking to have the charges dismissed, according to the Dallas Morning News. The publication also reported that more than 100 witnesses could be called during the proceedings, including several expected to be in the chamber Tuesday. A revised order posted to the Senate webpage instructs the day-one witnesses to be outside the chamber doors two hours after the Senate convenes Tuesday.

There has also been a sustained pressure campaign on some Texas Senate Republicans to support Paxton and vote for his acquittal, the Texas Tribune reported.

Late last month, the editor of the Quorum Report posted on social media that there was “credible chatter” about a possible Paxton resignation before the proceedings begin. Paxton immediately quipped that the rumor was false.

“Wrong! I will never stop fighting for the people of Texas and defending our conservative values,” he responded.

Lt. Gov. Patrick also seemed to defy his own gag order by saying there was nothing to the rumor.

“This is total false reporting. There are no ‘back-channel’ conversations with any party to the proceedings,” he said.

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