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.