Texas Senate acquits state Attorney General Ken Paxton in impeachment trial
Updated September 16, 2023 at 2:03 PM ET
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted Saturday in an impeachment trial before the state Senate. He was accused of abusing his office to protect a political donor.
Paxton has been suspended from his duties since May, when the Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach him. Saturday's Senate vote automatically reinstates Paxton to his role as attorney general, a position he's used to create a national profile as an advocate for conservative values and as a policy challenger of Democratic presidents.
Senators deliberated for nearly nine hours before reaching a verdict. A two-thirds vote — or 21 of the 30 eligible senators — was needed to convict Paxton on each of the 16 articles of impeachment he faced. Paxton's wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, was recused from voting.
Only two Texas lawmakers have ever been removed from their positions after an impeachment trial.
The impeachment charges
This verdict is the culmination of a nearly four-month saga that started in May, when the GOP-led Texas House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to impeach Paxton.
The House's move came after Paxton asked for $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit with four of his former deputies who sued him after being fired shortly after they reported Paxton's alleged misdeeds to the FBI.
Prosecutors said that in 2019, Paxton asked his top deputies for legal counsel on a disputed records request involving Nate Paul, an Austin businessman who was being investigated by federal law enforcement.
Paxton's staff researched Paul and found the businessman had multiple bankruptcies and was under investigation from the FBI, so they advised Paxton not to release the documents.
Texas House investigators say a few months later, in 2020, Paxton told one of his deputies he didn't want his office to help the FBI or the Texas Department of Public Safety on the investigation involving Paul.
Paxton eventually hired an outside attorney, which goes against agency protocol, to issue grand jury subpoenas to help Paul in his fight against the federal government, investigators said. Brandon Cammack, the hired attorney, testified that he was never paid by Paxton's office but did do the work.
House impeachment managers also alleged that Paul paid for Paxton's home renovations, particularly new cabinets and countertops — something the defense argued never happened, showing photos as evidence that the countertops had not been changed.
The prosecution responded with evidence showing Paxton made a payment of over $121,000 to a construction company associated with Paul on Oct. 1, 2020, a day after Paxton's former employees reported him to the FBI.
Texas attorney general, national figure
Paxton built a national profile over his three terms as Attorney General of Texas.
Since taking office in 2015, Paxton has sued both the Obama and Biden administrations dozens of times over immigration, abortion, federal spending and more. He also brought a headline-grabbing lawsuit against Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan to invalidate those states' election results — an attempt to invalidate President Biden's presidential win. That attempt was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Throughout this impeachment process, Paxton has received the support of former President Donald Trump.
In a post on Truth Social Wednesday, Trump claimed that RINOs — Republican In Name Only — were trying to undo Paxton's election.
"Who would replace Paxton, one of the TOUGHEST & BEST Attorney Generals in the Country?" Trump wrote. "Democrats are feeling very good right now as they watch, as usual, the Republicans fight & eat away at each other."
Paxton is scheduled to have an interview next week with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
A self-serving official, or a political victim?
In their closing arguments, House impeachment managers argued that Paxton violated his oath of office.
State Rep. Andrew Murr, the Republican chair of the board of impeachment, told senators Paxton also abused the trust of those who reelected him.
"Mr. Paxton's attorneys like to remind everyone that he was elected by 4.4 million voters," Murr said. "But they have blindly ignored the fact that he has ultimately ended up serving one person — himself."
In a memorable moment for the prosecution, GOP state Rep. Jeff Leach, an impeachment manager who represents Paxton's district, spoke directly to the Republican majority in the Senate, saying he considered Paxton a political mentor and a dear friend.
"I have loved Ken Paxton for a long time," Leach said, holding back tears. "I've done life with Ken Paxton — we've traveled together, attend church together."
But Leach said Paxton had been given ample opportunities to answer questions about the allegations and decided not to do so. He urged senators to convict "no matter how painful."
Paxton's lead attorney, Tony Buzbee, said the allegations made by the House were baseless and that Paxton was impeached because of his political enemies.
"The only evidence we have in this case is they don't like Ken Paxton," Buzbee told the Senate, "This man did his job, and he should still be doing this job."
He encouraged senators to "seek the truth."
What happens next
Paxton's acquittal doesn't mark the end of his legal problems.
The FBI is investigating the allegations made by his former employees. According to The Associated Press, prosecutors took grand jury testimony from Paxton's former personal aide Drew Wicker in August.
Paxton has also been under indictment since 2015 for securities fraud, but has yet to face a trial.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán reports on politics and government for The Texas Newsroom. He's based out of KUT in Austin.
Disclosure: Dick DeGuerin, one of the lead prosecutors for the state House in the Senate impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton, is a board member of Marfa Public Radio.