Paxton escapes looming impeachment, will stay Texas Attorney General

Photo By Grace Cowger | Mercury Staff

Ken Paxton, Texas attorney general and Collin County representative, was acquitted from 16 articles impeachment, including bribery and obstruction of justice on Sept. 16 and will remain in his position.

Paxton stood trial beginning Sept. 5 in front of the Texas Senate, which Paxton has decried as an inciting point for further political polarization after his Sept. 16 electoral victory. Paxton is the first Texas state official to face impeachment since 1917. The 16 articles of impeachment, which are over 4,000 pages long, accuse Paxton of bribery and abuse of office, which the FBI is currently investigating. The allegations first emerged from a group of four whistleblowers in 2020, whom Ken Paxton fired and publicly shamed. As a result of the Whistleblower Act, Paxton was then forced to apologize and pay the four a $3.3 million settlement, which has been a centerpiece of the defense’s argument.

Paxton pleaded not guilty and asked to have evidence excluded. Senators rejected all of Paxton’s pre-trial motions after several senators said they were politically and personally threatened by Paxton supporters. It was ruled that Paxton did not have to testify at his own trial.

The trial began Sept. 5, 2023, and opened with Paxton’s attorney labeling the whistleblowers and Republican senators as “RINOs” — Republicans in name only — and accusing them of helping lobbyists advance a plot to remove Paxton from office. The defense provided no physical evidence or witnesses to support this theory. However, whistleblower Ryan Vassar admitted that they had no hard incriminating evidence when they reported Paxton to the FBI but believed that there was reason for suspicion that Paxton might have been bribed based off collective experience.

“We had no evidence that we could point to, but we had reasonable conclusions that we could draw,” Vassar said. “[Paxton] felt that Mr. Paul was being railroaded by the FBI and by [Texas state law enforcement]. Paxton said that he didn’t trust law enforcement. He asked us to find a way to release the information that had been requested to be withheld.”

Paxton’s behavior included wanting to communicate through encrypted channels and getting involved in cases outside the attorney general’s domain, such as the Mitte Foundation lawsuit. Whistleblower Darren McCarty believed the lawsuit was Paxton forcing his office to go out of their way to defend Nate Paul from local law enforcement and the FBI.

“[The office’s involvement was] unethical, against our statutes and, I highly suspected, corrupt,” McCarty said.

A prevailing topic of discussion throughout the trial has been Paxton’s extramarital affair, which prosecutors argue real estate investor Nate Paul helped facilitate and cover up. The prosecution also argues that Paul bribed Paxton to abuse his office to protect him from the FBI in a 2019 securities fraud case and the 2020 charity lawsuit. Paul has since been arrested, with key evidence including a check from Paul to Paxton that the defense team presented to the court, accidentally supporting the prosecution’s argument.

Deliberation for the trial began Sept. 15, which requires all present and eligible 30 senators — 19 of which are Republican and 12 of which are Democrats — to come to a conclusion before voting. For each article of impeachment, 21 votes are required to convict Paxton. On Sept. 16 at 10:30 a.m. CST, senators cast their vote, ruling in favor of Paxton.

17 Republican senators voted to acquit Paxton in all impeachment cases despite it being a Republican-led prosecution, with two Republican voters only voting to convict a handful of times. Only one senator voted to convict Paxton at every level, Democrat Roland Gutierrez. While Democrat senators voted to convict the majority of the time, they almost unanimously voted to acquit articles four and eight. The most votes garnered on any article was 14. By comparison, 70% of republicans voted against Paxton in May when the articles were first introduced.

Paxton will be allowed to hold his position as attorney general and seek future state positions. However, he still faces an investigation from the FBI, security fraud charges and obstruction of justice for his own trial from 2015 and professional misconduct from the Texas State Bar for attempting to overturn 2020 election results.

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