Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted and will remain in office. What now?
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted Saturday in an impeachment trial before the state Senate. He was facing 20 articles of impeachment and accused of abusing his office to protect a political donor.
Paxton had been suspended from his duties since May, when the Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach him. Saturday’s vote automatically reinstates Paxton to his role as attorney general.
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, who covers state politics for the Texas Newsroom, said the verdict was split into individual votes on each count.
“On Friday/Saturday, senators deliberated for about nine hours,” he said. “[During the vote,] from the first article, we started seeing how this was going to be hard for the prosecution to win here. We saw that in most of the articles, the final vote was 14 to 16. So 14 voted to sustain the article of impeachment, 16 voting against it – so for acquittal. And actually, in most except I think one or two, that was the final vote, 14 to 16.”
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Mike Golden, a lecturer and the director of the trial advocacy program at the University of Texas School of Law, said the closing arguments on Friday seemed geared toward an audience beyond the 31 senators in the room. This speaks to the wider political implications of the trial, he said.
“I think that started with the opening statement. It was really one of the first things I noticed with Tony Buzbee’s opening statement,” he said. “It didn’t really appear that his statement was aimed at persuading the senators so much as it was aimed at getting out a message, talking points.”
Golden said it’s important to keep in mind that the trial was ultimately a political process, and was not held in a court of law.
“While it looked very much like a trial and was conducted very much like a trial, the impeachment process is, by design, a political process and not a judicial one,” he said. “I think the results sort of showed the political will seems to be on the side of those who continue to want to buck the Republican establishment.”
Golden said he was also struck by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s statement as the trial came to a close. Patrick serves as the president of the Texas Senate and during the trial was presiding as judge.
“Obviously, we all know there was no love lost between the Texas House and the Senate at the moment. But, you know, Patrick did, in my view, a good job over the course of the trial of trying to give both sides most of the time a chance to make a fair presentation of evidence and to keep the trial under control,” he said. “What really struck me with Dan Patrick’s speech there at the end was how directly he attacked the House managers who were one party in this trial that he had just been the judge over.”
Two Republican senators broke ranks and voted to convict Ken Paxton — Sen. Robert Nichols of Montgomery County and Sen. Kelly Hancock of Fort Worth.
“Nichols is a conservative, but he’s more moderate, some might argue, and this is not the first time here he’s broken outside of his party and voted with Democrats on issues,” Martínez-Beltrán said. “But then Kelly Hancock is a very conservative Republican and has his voting records to prove it. He issued a statement after the vote where he said it was his constitutional obligation to seek the truth based on the facts made available. And he says, ‘My vote on each article reflects that responsibility, and none was taken lightly.’”
Paxton’s legal troubles are not yet over — he still faces an FBI investigation and some charges in Houston in his ongoing securities fraud case.
“Probably the next development we will hear about is in early October, there is a hearing set on the securities fraud charges in state court in Harris County,” Golden said. “We are also aware that there is a federal grand jury that has been convened in San Antonio to look into alleged federal crimes. Those timelines are less clear or we’re not going to know until something drops.
Obviously, this was a huge win for the attorney general to remain in office and to defeat impeachment charges. But there’s nothing like a federal prosecution to really put you in the crosshairs. And so that will be big news if that comes out.”
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