The Texas Senate on Saturday acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton of 16 articles of impeachment alleging corruption and bribery, his most artful escape in a career spent courting controversy and skirting consequences of scandal.
No article received more than 14 of the required 21 votes to convict. Only two of 19 Republican Senators, Bob Nichols of Jacksonville and Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, voted in favor of convicting for any article — a stark contrast to the nearly 70% of House Republicans who impeached the attorney general in May.
Paxton, who attended just two days of the trial and was not present to witness his exoneration, was characteristically defiant.
“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,” Paxton said in a statement. “The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle political differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt.”
The dramatic votes capped a two-week trial where a parade of witnesses, including former senior officials under Paxton, testified that the attorney general had repeatedly abused his office by helping his friend, struggling Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, investigate and harass his enemies, delay foreclosure sales of his properties and obtain confidential records on the police investigating him. In return, House impeachment managers said Paul paid to renovate Paxton’s Austin home and helped him carry out and cover up an extramarital affair with a former Senate aide.
In the end, senators were unpersuaded.
“This should have never happened,” Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, told reporters outside the chamber. He criticized what he called a rushed and flawed investigation by the House.
The not guilty verdicts immediately restored Paxton to office, lifting the automatic suspension triggered by the House vote in May to impeach him. The votes sealed the failure of a risky gambit by House Republicans who began in secret in the spring to investigate, and then purge, a leader of their own party.
And they came after sustained pressure on senators from grassroots groups, conservative activists and the leader of the state Republican Party who vowed retribution at the ballot box if Paxton was convicted.
Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, was on hand to witness his acquittal. Required to attend but barred from deliberating and voting because of her relationship with the accused, she listened stone-faced during the trial as multiple witnesses testified about the attorney general’s infidelity, exposing as a lie his 2018 declaration to his wife and senior aides that the affair was permanently over.
After the acquittal, she hugged her husband’s lead lawyer, Tony Buzbee, and shook hands with the defense team.
The Senate also voted 19-11 to dismiss the remaining four articles of impeachment that the chamber had agreed to set aside prior to the trial. Those articles dealt with Paxton’s long-running securities fraud case, which is expected to go to trial early next year.
Despite the victory, Paxton’s troubles are far from over. He faces trial on charges of securities fraud dating back to 2015.
I don’t even know what to say about this other than I don’t think we got nearly enough division on the GOP side out of this, but perhaps that remains to be seen. I’ll just move onto this related story about his remaining legal troubles, which will not have such a friendly and credulous jury deciding them.
[Paxton] still faces state securities fraud charges, a case that has stretched out for eight years and counting, starting with an indictment just months after he took office in 2015. The case has been delayed for years by pretrial disputes — including a back-and-forth battle over the trial venue that saw it moved to Houston from Collin County, which Paxton represented as a state lawmaker.
And Paxton has been under investigation by the FBI since October 2020, although no charges have been filed.
Federal law experts and former prosecutors contacted by The Texas Tribune say the impeachment result isn’t likely to alter the course of Paxton’s securities fraud case. As far as the FBI investigation, they said, witness testimony in the impeachment hearings could help federal officials evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their case.
In the state case, Paxton faces two counts of securities fraud, a first-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 99 years in prison, stemming from his 2011 efforts to solicit investors in Servergy Inc. without disclosing that the McKinney tech company was paying him to promote its stock. Paxton also faces one count of failing to register with state securities regulators, a third-degree felony with a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.
Sandra Guerra Thompson, a former New York City prosecutor who teaches criminal law at the University of Houston Law Center, said Paxton’s victory in the impeachment trial likely means his state criminal case will continue on its present trajectory.
“The same motivation to try to delay [the case] would continue from his perspective, and the prosecutors would have the same motivations to move forward,” she said. “It’s very perilous for a public official to have charges like that against them. Because even if you get them reduced to a misdemeanor, they’re still crimes of moral turpitude. So it’s problematic.”
A conviction, she said, would have made a plea agreement more likely because prosecutors would have less urgency to take the case to trial in an effort to remove him from office.
Last month in a Houston courtroom before a new judge, defense lawyers and prosecutors agreed to return Oct. 6 to deal with pending motions and set a trial date.
“At some point, it has to come to an end,” special prosecutor Brian Wice told reporters afterward. “I think today was the first step in a journey of a thousand miles to make sure that justice ultimately comes to be.”
One can only hope. There’s also that State Bar of Texas complaint, which could result in sanctions up to and including disbarment, but nothing criminal and nothing that would disqualify him from office. The next hearing in that case was supposed to have started this past Monday but was put on hold for obvious reasons. I expect we’ll get a new court date soon, maybe for before the state securities fraud trial in October, more likely I think for after.
I’m not going to ruin the rest of my Saturday with hot takes. I’m going to watch a little football, and we have Dynamo tickets for the evening. I will note two things before I close. One was this prediction from Republican consultant and data guy Derek Ryan, who suggested that if there wasn’t 21 votes to convict some number of Republican Senators would likely flip back to acquittal, a prediction that appears to have been borne out in the aftermath. And two, there may yet be some real lingering division that could yet have political implications down the line.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick broke his personal silence Saturday on Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment after the Senate voted for acquittal, blasting the House’s impeachment process as deeply flawed.
“The speaker and his team rammed through the first impeachment of a statewide official in Texas in over 100 years while paying no attention to the precedent that the House set in every other impeachment before,” Patrick said from the dais after the verdict was finalized.
House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, fired back, saying Patrick ended the trial by “confessing his bias and placing his contempt for the people’s House on full display.”
Patrick was the presiding officer of the trial — effectively the judge — and his feelings on the matter were the subject of much speculation. While he got praise for how he handled certain aspects, like the trial rules, he also drew scrutiny for accepting $3 million from a pro-Paxton group in late June.
Patrick also called for a state constitutional amendment reforming the impeachment process. He proposed that all House testimony should be given under oath and subject to cross examination, adding that an impeached official “should not be put on unpaid leave” while awaiting trial.
Patrick also said “millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment” and called for a “full audit” of the House’s spending on it.
Phelan responded with a statement that was just as hostile, saying Patrick “attacked the House for standing up against corruption.”
“His tirade disrespects the Constitutional impeachment process afforded to us by the founders of this great state,” Phelan said. “The inescapable conclusion is that today’s outcome appears to have been orchestrated from the start, cheating the people of Texas of justice.”
There is no love lost between Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, who have previously battled over policy issues. But Patrick’s speech represented a new escalation in their feud and came after he withheld his personal opinion on the impeachment for months, trying to show he was taking the trial seriously.
And shame on anyone who believed that he was. I’m just going to say to Dade Phelan and any other Republican member of the House that Dan Patrick just completely slimed, the answer to this problem, no matter where you are and what you’re doing in two years’ time, is to vigorously support and campaign for an opponent to Dan Patrick in 2026. And yes, that includes whoever his Democratic opponent is, because we both know he’ll glide through the primary. Either that, or just accept all the shit that he’s going to dump on you and concede that he’s correct to do so. Which option do you prefer?