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Monday, September 25, 2023
Sept. 25, 2023

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Republican Texas AG Ken Paxton is acquitted of corruption charges at historic impeachment trial

Paxton faces trial on felony securities fraud charges, remains under a separate FBI investigation

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AUSTIN, Texas — 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 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 but issued a triumphant statement immediately after the verdict, blasting his Republican rivals who impeached him in the Texas House in May.

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

The Senate also voted to dismiss four impeachment articles that weren’t taken up at the trial. 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.

The jury of 30 senators spent about eight hours deliberating behind closed doors before emerging for the historic vote. The Senate is led by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who served as Texas chairman of Trump’s previous presidential campaigns, and who served as the presiding judge for the trial.

Patrick, a former conservative radio host in Houston, had said little about the case leading up to the trial but unleashed a blistering attack over the impeachment the moment it was over. Still sitting on the podium where he oversaw the trial, Patrick said the process had been “rammed” through the Texas House and vowed to pursue a change to the state constitution so it couldn’t happen again.

“Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment,” Patrick said.

In Senate gallery, 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. One of them left before the conclusion of the verdict as it became clear the votes were going Paxton’s way.

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.

After the trial was concluded, Angela Paxton went over to her husband’s legal team and hugged them before leaving the chamber.

The trial had 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 trial confronted Paxton, whose three terms in office have been marred by scandal and criminal charges, with 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.

In an angry and defiant rebuttal, Paxton lawyer Tony Buzbee on Friday 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.”

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.

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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.

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.

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