Updated Sep 16, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton acquitted in impeachment vote

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021 in Dallas, Texas

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC in 2021. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Texas state senators acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton of all impeachment charges Saturday, allowing him to return to his post.

Why it matters: Despite an overwhelming majority of House Republicans voting to impeach Paxton earlier this year, Senate Republicans rallied around one of their own.

  • All but two of 18 Republicans — Bob Nichols of Jacksonville in East Texas and Kelly Hancock from the Fort Worth suburb of North Richland Hills — voted to clear Paxton of every charge.
  • Nichols and Hancock don't face re-election until 2026.
  • A two-thirds majority — 21 votes — was needed to convict the attorney general on any of the 16 articles of impeachment.

Catch up quick: Senators weighed whether Paxton illegally used his office to benefit an Austin real estate developer and improperly fired some of his top deputies who reported him to the FBI and other agencies.

  • The allegations against Paxton, a close ally of President Donald Trump, bitterly divided the Texas GOP.

Driving the news: After eight days of testimony, senators spent about eight hours deliberating.

What they're saying: Paxton, who attended just two days of the trial, was defiant following his acquittal.

  • "The sham impeachment coordinated by the Biden Administration with liberal House Speaker Dade Phelan and his kangaroo court has cost taxpayers millions of dollars, disrupted the work of the Office of Attorney General and left a dark and permanent stain on the Texas House. The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle political differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt," he said in a statement.

The other side: "It's clear that the fix was in from the beginning, and that as long as Republicans control our government, elected officials won't face consequences for ethical or criminal offenses," Texas Democratic Party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement.

During closing arguments on Friday, Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee said the prosecution did not prove its case, calling the charges "baloney," "bull" and "hogwash."

  • "There is shame here, and the shame sits right there that they would bring this case in this chamber with no evidence," Buzbee said, pointing to the House impeachment managers and the lawyers working with them. "I am proud to represent Attorney General Ken Paxton. If this can happen to him, it can happen to anyone."

State Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction), who led the House prosecution team, laid out the case point-by-point on Friday, playing clips of witness testimony.

  • "The office of the Attorney General of the state of Texas is Mr. Paxton's law firm, and he is the firm's only client," Murr said. "He directs it to serve himself, not the people of Texas. If you vote to condone that, then high office will simply be the most profitable choice for any self-serving crook."

Of note: State Sen. Angela Paxton, the attorney general's wife, was barred by Senate rules from serving on the jury but was required to be present for the trial.

Flashback: Paxton's mistress, at the center of the bribery allegations, was set to testify Wednesday for the prosecution but was deemed unavailable at the last minute. She had planned to invoke her Fifth Amendment right to protect herself from self-incrimination, The Dallas Morning News reported citing two sources with first-hand knowledge.

The big picture: The FBI is also investigating Paxton for the alleged misdeeds underpinning his impeachment. A grand jury has reportedly been impaneled to review potential criminal charges.

  • Paxton also faces eight-year-old state fraud charges, a whistleblower lawsuit and a state bar lawsuit over his role in challenging the 2020 election results that could end with his disbarment.

What's next: Paxton, who was suspended following the House impeachment, returns to office.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from Paxton following his acquittal.

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