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HomeUSATexas braces for the historic impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas braces for the historic impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton leaves the U.S. Supreme Court following arguments over a challenge to a Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

The Texas Senate will convene as a high court Tuesday to consider the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Republican firebrand accused by his own party of taking bribes and abusing his office.

Paxton, 60, has spent the past decade as the right’s chief legal attack dog, fighting many of President Donald Trump’s battles from Austin. Lawsuits to overturn the Affordable Care Act, legal protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — commonly known as “Dreamers” — and the results of the 2020 election made him a popular force for the right, even after he was indicted for securities fraud. But his political support fractured this year when the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives voted 121-23 to impeach him on charges of abuse of office and bribery.

Paxton, only the third official in Texas history to be impeached, has denied wrongdoing and vowed to fight the charges in a trial that promises to be a political spectacle as it threatens to tear his party in two.   

“It’s not a criminal trial. It’s not a civil trial. It’s a political trial,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in an interview with Fox 26 Houston, a local television station, this summer.

Patrick, a powerful Republican president of the state Senate, will preside over the high court as judge. Thirty-one Texas senators — the majority of them Republican — will serve as the jury, considering opening and closing statements, witness testimony, cross examination and 20 articles of impeachment.

Here’s what to expect:

How did we get here?

Paxton has faced allegations of wrongdoing and legal troubles for years. He was indicted on securities fraud counts in 2015, and his own staff reported him to the FBI for suspected corruption in 2020 over his dealings with Nate Paul, a donor and real estate investor. After whistleblowers sued and Paxton struck a $3.3 million settlement, House members began investigating the whistleblowers’ claims in secret before impeaching Paxton on May 27 on 20 articles of impeachment.

According to the articles, Paxton used his power and office to help Paul work through legal difficulties. They also accuse him of accepting bribes in the form of renovations to his home and a job for a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. The articles say that when confronted allegations of wrongdoing, Paxton retaliated against whistleblowers in his office and spent government money trying to cover up his wrongdoing with a sham investigation into their claims.

What happens Tuesday?

The Senate is scheduled to convene as a high court at 9 a.m., and per trial rules, it will first consider pretrial motions filed by both sides’ lawyers. Paxton’s defense is being led by Tony Buzbee, who has with his team filed numerous motions, including some to dismiss the articles of impeachment, compel the production of evidence from the House impeachment managers and prevent Paxton from being forced to take the stand.

The House impeachment managers are being represented by longtime lawyers Rusty Hardin and Dick DeGuerin, who also sought rule changes in a motion.

Senators will vote on motions to dismiss the articles of impeachment, while Patrick will rule on other motions. Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, has been barred from voting in the trial but must attend as a juror. She announced her re-election campaign Saturday.

According to the rules, the House managers or their lawyers can then present an opening statement before presenting their evidence and calling witnesses.

Who will testify?

According to witness lists the lawyers were required to submit to the court last month, which were obtained by The Dallas Morning News, there are more than 100 potential witnesses. They include Paxton himself; Paul; current and former staff members from the attorney general’s office; Paxton’s alleged companion, Laura Olson; the attorney general’s 2022 primary challenger, George P. Bush; and even famed Texas political strategist Karl Rove.

After all the potential witnesses were ordered to appear outside the Senate chamber Tuesday at 11 a.m. — setting the stage for a remarkable political spectacle — Patrick amended his order to allow for some witnesses to appear later in the trial.

At the heart of the impeachment managers’ case is the testimony and records created by the members of Paxton’s senior staff, who are likely to testify about how they became increasingly alarmed by Paxton’s dealings with Paul in 2020. Their interviews and contemporaneous records reveal how they sought to stop the attorney general from helping Paul investigate his enemies.

Contemporaneous memos detailing conversations and meetings offer a remarkable insight into the events that eventually led them to go to law enforcement agencies.

“I don’t trust NP,” wrote deputy attorney general Mark Penley in a handwritten note documenting a meeting with Paul. “ALL OF THIS IS HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS.” 

Paxton’s attorneys have said he will not testify and have filed a motion to prevent him from being forced to do so. The House impeachment managers have argued that while the attorney general can exercise his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself, he must do so from the stand.

What does Paxton say about all this?

Paxton’s attorneys have argued in filings that there is no evidence of wrongdoing or a bribe, and that any misconduct has been forgiven by voters when they chose to re-elect him in 2022.

“After an investigation spanning five months in both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate, interviewing over a dozen witnesses and reviewing almost 300,000 pages of documents, the two special prosecutors who were handed a blank check at taxpayers’ expense to find Ken Paxton’s bribe can’t locate one — because it never happened,” Buzbee said in a statement shared with NBC News. 

Paxton and his allies — including President Donald Trump — have also threatened political retribution.

“Hopefully Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed — I will fight you if it does,” Trump wrote on Truth Social during impeachment proceedings against Paxton.

Who is serving as attorney general in Texas right now?

Angela Colmenero, a longtime aide to Gov. Greg Abbott, was appointed last month to serve as the acting attorney general. After Paxton was suspended following his sudden impeachment in May, former Secretary of State John Scott oversaw the office through early July.

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