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Senators head for deliberations as Paxton impeachment wraps

Throughout his nearly ten-year reign as Texas’ top cop, hard-right Ken Paxton has found himself at the center of an almost comical number of legal and ethical controversies.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The impeachment trial of suspended Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton inched toward a conclusion on Friday, as members of the Texas Senate began deliberations following intense closing arguments.

Paxton, the state’s third-term incumbent Republican AG, stands accused of a range of offenses, including abuse of office, constitutional bribery, disregard of official duty, making false statements in official records, conspiracy, being unfit for office and abuse of the public trust. He has denied all wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to the 16 articles of impeachment against him.

Still, the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives found the evidence against him convincing. Convincing enough, in fact, that they impeached him in May by a wide and bipartisan margin, 121-23.

Those dramatic events, which followed a secret investigation of Paxton as part of the 2023 Texas legislative session, set the stage for these impeachment proceedings in the state Senate. That in turn has set off one of the biggest Texas political dramas in decades, as true believers have rushed to defend the hardline attorney general and as journalists from around the country have flocked to the Texas State Capitol to watch the proceedings.

At the epicenter of the impeachment trial is Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, a wealthy real-estate investor from Austin and a controversial figure in his own right. 

The attorney general allegedly used his office to help Paul, including by intervening in a lawsuit brought against him by a charitable organization, helping him obtain documents related to a state and federal raid on his properties and staving off foreclosure on one of those properties. Additionally, Paxton is accused of accepting bribes from Paul in the form of renovations to his Austin home as well as a job for a woman with whom Paxton was having an affair. 

Paxton’s relationship with Paul is just one in a long line of controversies facing the scandal-plagued attorney general, who has also been indicted for securities fraud and accused of attempting to subvert the 2020 election. So far, Paxton has managed to artfully maneuver through this minefield as his profile has continued to rise.

And yet as Paul started to sink, Paxton seemed to be sinking with him. Federal prosecutors in June unveiled eight felony counts against the real-estate developer, accusing him (among other things) of misrepresenting assets in an effort to obtain loans. As Paul’s mugshot ricocheted across the state, it seemed for a moment like Paxton’s many critics had finally found a chink in his armor.

Former top aides to Paxton — who this week have served as star witnesses against him — all say they cautioned Paxton against getting too close with Paul. They say they warned the attorney general that the scandal could blow up in his face and could even lead to new criminal charges.

Paxton fired all of them, prompting an FBI investigation and then a whistleblower suit. Paxton tried to settle that suit in February by promising the whistleblowers an apology and $3.3 million in taxpayer dollars. That number was preliminary — as court documents from February indicate, Paxton knew he’d need approval from the Texas legislature before paying off the ex-employees with public funds.

Balking at the sum, the Texas House this year launched a secret inquiry into the request. They didn’t like what they found, and soon they introduced 20 articles of impeachment against the embattled AG.

"We cannot overemphasize the fact that, but for Paxton's own request for a taxpayer-funded settlement over his wrongful conduct, Paxton would not be facing impeachment by the House," Andrew Murr, a Republican state representative from West Texas who led in the inquiry, wrote in a memo to lawmakers at the time. The Texas House overwhelmingly agreed with Murr's concerns, setting off the dramatic political showdown this week.


Paxton, who has been suspended without pay since May, has remained out of public view throughout much of the proceedings. As the trial began its ninth and final day, he was present once again in the Senate chamber.

The AG’s presence grabbed the attention of Representative Murr, who mentioned it during closing arguments as he once again called for Paxton’s impeachment.

In his closing arguments of the impeachment trial of Ken Paxton, Texas House Impeachment manager and State Representative Andrew Murr asked senators to hold Paxton accountable and remove him from office. (Kirk McDaniel/ Courthouse News)

“Mr. Paxton claims he wants the truth, but he hasn’t even bothered to be here for the whole trial,” Murr said. “He came on the first day, he left at lunch and now he’s here for closing. Clearly, he thinks he just might get away with this.”

Paxton, the Republican lawmaker added, had “betrayed the people of Texas.” He warned that if not removed from office, Paxton would continue to do so. 

Friday’s closing arguments were full of fireworks like this, as impeachment managers like Murr made their final case for impeachment — and as Paxton’s own lawyers mounted a final defense.

The mood mirrors that of Texans during trial, where modern America’s penchant for hyperpartisanship and conspiratorial thinking has been on full display. Many of Paxton’s fiercest defenders have accused Democrats of secretly orchestrating the impeachment. Democrats have not controlled the state House since 2002. The conservative state has not gone for a Democratic president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, a flamboyant character in his own right, has been leading Paxton’s defense in the state Senate.

On Friday, he leaned into conspiracies about the trial, launching a scathing rebuke of the allegations against Paxton as well as the proceeding itself. 

“This is a political trial. 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 [as] a partisan fight within the Republican party.”

Buzbee may have never uttered phrases like “deep state," but he certainly dog-whistled them. Paxton’s enemies were “weaponizing” agencies like the FBI, he said, and flooding media outlets with “hundreds of articles” about “how bad Paxton is.”

“The only evidence we have in this case is that they don’t like Ken Paxton,” Buzbee said. Referencing George P. Bush, the former Texas land commissioner who last year challenged Paxton in the Republican primary, Buzbee said that “the Bush era in Texas ends today.”

Buzbee suggested that the outcome for Paxton — Texas’ top cop, and one of the most powerful officials in the state — was tied to the fates of everyday, salt-of-the-earth Texans.

“If it can happen to him,” Buzbee said, “it can happen to anyone.”

He took some final, coastal-elite jabs at the Bush family, who he argued were trying to defeat Paxton “in an impeachment trial” after failing to beat him at the ballot box.

“Maybe go back to Maine,” Buzbee said. “This is Texas.”

Despite days of testimony from 18 witnesses, including many of Paxton’s former top deputies that reported him to the FBI, Buzbee has continued to argue there is insufficient evidence to remove Paxton from office. 

Throughout the trial, Buzbee and others on the defense team have sought to re-contextualize eyebrow-raising actions and decisions made by Paxton. Of allegations the attorney general abused his office to help Nate Paul with his legal troubles, Buzbee said that Paul received nothing from the AG’s office.

“The only evidence in this case is that they don’t like Ken Paxton,” Buzbee snapped. “Vote not guilty.”

Returning to the podium for the rest of closing statements, Representative Murr relied heavily on the testimony of the whistleblowers in his own remarks. He played recorded clips from the trial, allowing the whistleblowers the last word over what led them to report Paxton to the FBI.

Murr stressed the importance of the vote to the Senators. “Members of the jury, this is the most important choice you have ever faced,” said Murr. “In 100 years, it is probably the only vote that anyone will talk about [in regards to] your careers. It will also decide what Texas politics will look like.”

“This is about what this public service means,” Murr said. He quipped that for Paxton, the term “public service” meant serving himself and Nate Paul. 

Senators began deliberations immediately after the conclusion of closing arguments. According to the rules written and adopted by the members, they will each vote individually on the 16 impeachment articles separately. 

While the Texas House originally approved 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton, senators will only consider 16 of them. The four others stem from early in Paxton’s career as AG, when he was indicted on securities fraud charges. Because the charges are unrelated to the current Nate Paul drama, they have been held in abeyance. 

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the proceedings, has told senators and public that the impeachment trial “is like 16 trials in one.” As with all juries, he reminded them not to talk to the public or to journalists during deliberations.

Deliberations would continue until the state Senate reached his verdict, Patrick explained on Friday — warning them that he may keep them in the building until a verdict is reached. Once senators have concluded deliberating, the Senate will alert the public as to when they will cast their votes. 

At least 21 senators — a two-thirds majority —  must sustain a single article in order to remove Paxton from office. If an article is approved, the senators will make a separate vote determining whether Paxton should be barred from running for public office again. 

There are 31 state senators in Texas, with 30 eligible to vote in this case. Paxton’s wife — Angela Paxton, the ineligible and 31st state senator — has been excluded from deliberations and votes of conviction.

Although some of Ken Paxton’s alleged misdeeds involve an affair, Angela Paxton has remained a stalwart ally of the attorney general throughout the proceedings, at least in public view. Earlier this month, she appeared alongside her husband at a Labor Day picnic organized by a county-level Republican Party in the Dallas area.

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