Long Trib story about what to expect when the Senate finally takes up the impeachment trial of Ken Paxton.
The Senate plans to consider impeachment rules on June 20 and to start the trial by Aug. 28.
Yet there are a lot of unknowns, and the Senate is keeping quiet. The GOP presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, promised Tuesday that Paxton will get a fair trial but otherwise declined to give an opinion on the matter.
“Don’t ask me any more questions because I can’t answer them,” Patrick said during an event with the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “Look at me like a judge before a case and look at our senators like that. Be respectful of their space and time. This is very serious. There are very serious people, and the Senate is going to do our job in a professional way.”
Paxton’s office seems to have already irked the prosecution by reportedly delivering a packet to senators’ office outlining his defense. Rep. Ann Johnson, the Houston Democrat and vice chair of the board of managers, said Tuesday she expects Paxton to “realize that dropping a binder on your potential jurors could be considered tampering or attempting to interfere with a lawful process.”
After Saturday’s House voted to impeach Paxton, several Republican senators issued nearly identical statements saying they were taking a vow of silence on the trial. They said they “welcome and encourage” feedback from constituents but added that they cannot “communicate directly” about the case.
Senate Democrats are also staying tight-lipped. The head of the Democratic caucus, Sen. Carol Alvarado of Houston, declined to comment Wednesday. Another Democratic senator, Austin’s Sarah Eckhardt, noted in a statement Wednesday that during the last impeachment trial, the rules banned senators from discussing the matter with anyone beyond themselves and the Senate’s presiding.
“Please be assured that I am committed to fulfilling my constitutional duty, including my duty to act as an impartial juror in weighing the facts and merits of the case,” Eckhardt said.
Before the Senate can conduct the trial, it has to set rules for the trial — and the Texas Constitution gives the chamber wide latitude to do so.
“The [Paxton] impeachment trial rules could be key,” Ross Garber, a nationally known impeachment lawyer, tweeted Thursday. “Watch, for example, to see whether they allow for discovery/depositions by Paxton or require disclosure of investigative info by the House.”
On Monday, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution allowing Patrick to name a seven-member committee to devise trial rules. They will present proposed rules to the full Senate on June 20, according to the resolution. It is unclear if they will vote on approving them the same day.
The committee that Patrick named is majority Republican — there are only two Democrats — and its chair, Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, is an ally of the lieutenant governor. He currently leads two other Senate committees, including one on border security.
The team that will present the case against Paxton appears aware how important the Senate rules could be.
“I hope that as they develop [the rules] and as we go forward, we are going to have a full, public hearing that allows both sides to present the evidence that allows the public and the world to know just what happened here,” Hardin said Thursday.
Depending on the rules, a big question for Paxton is who should testify, including the attorney general himself. Rep. Carl Tepper, a Lubbock Republican who voted to impeach, said Thursday that trial testimony would be fraught with legal risk for Paxton.
“He needs to have a fair trial in the Senate but realize that in this fair trial, he gets to testify or his people get to testify on his behalf, and that is all admissible in criminal and civil cases,” Tepper told Lubbock radio host Chad Hasty. “He’s in a lot of trouble, he’s in a big mess, because I think there’s a lot there.”
Yes, I think who testifies and about what has the potential to be a very big deal. As Rep. Tepper notes, people could put themselves at risk in a number of ways. Attorney Garber adds an interesting bit of speculation as well.
2/ BUT I’ll be interested to see if the AG’s office nevertheless gets involved, either by cooperating with House prosecutors or assisting Paxton in the background. For example, what if Senate subpoenas internal AG info or testimony of current or former AG personnel?
— Ross Garber (@rossgarber) 2:57 PM – 31 May 2023
Hey, Rusty Hardin promised me that what we don’t yet know is a lot worse than what we do currently know. And as the comments to my post from yesterday about Paxton’s defense team point out, they will be in violation of State Bar rules if they have reason to believe they could be called as witnesses. I’ll bet there’s a lot of material in the AG’s files. And I can’t wait to find out.
I don’t have anything to add other than go read the rest. And when you’re done, since we’ve met Paxton’s defense team and we know who the lead prosecutors are, go read about the House impeachment managers who will be working with those prosecutors. This summer is going to be amazing. And on that note, and in tune with my hope for maxiumum Republican discord, please enjoy the following tweets.
Young man, you’re welcome to come to Waller and tell my hometown Executive Committee that lie. I’ll join you in the debate of my character, and we’ll see who they believe when we walk out.
— Stan Kitzman (@StanKitzmanTX) 1:41 PM – 2 June 2023
Vice Chair Parks is correct. Ridiculous
— Scott Braddock (@scottbraddock) 12:34 AM – 1 June 2023
Keep up the good work, y’all.