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Rows of leather chairs, wooden desks sat and a witness stand sat empty in the Texas Senate on Friday, the chamber assembled into a makeshift courtroom.
Come Tuesday, the room will be bustling with lawmakers and attorneys, and the onlooking gallery filled with reporters and members of the public, there to witness the first day of the impeachment trial against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The embattled prosecutor has faced legal woes and scandals since he took office in 2015, namely allegations he misused his office to benefit a donor and then retaliated against whistleblowers who tried to bring the wrongdoings to light.
Paxton was impeached in the House in late May, sending a list of articles to the Senate for trial. If convicted, Paxton would be removed from office and could be barred from running for office again.
If the months leading up to the trial are any indication, the proceedings will be full of fireworks as attorneys prosecuting the case for House impeachment managers lay out their case against Paxton — a saga that involves alleged bribery, home renovations, an affair and an Uber alias.
The charges against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
The 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton include disregard of official duty, making false statements in public records, constitutional bribery, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and attempted conspiracy, misapplication of public resources, dereliction of duty, unfitness for office and abuse of public trust.
Many stem from his ties to Austin real estate developer Nate Paul and claims that Paxton gave the political donor special attention and legal help while accepting favors like home renovations and a job for a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.
Four of the articles are related to Paxton’s long-standing legal trouble that resulted in 2015 federal indictments, but they are not expected to take center stage during the impeachment trail. They are being held in abeyance, Senate rules say. That means evidence on the four articles won’t come up, but they’ll need to be disposed of at some point, according to a source close to the impeachment matter.
The criminal case has not yet gone to trial. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.
Among the key events to know from the years leading up to the impeachment and the months since:
Paxton took office as Texas Attorney General in 2015, the same year he was indicted on felony security fraud charges. Hetors is accused of soliciting investments in Severgy Inc., a McKinney-based company without disclosing he had been compensated.
In late 2020, the Associated Press reported that the FBI was investigating Paxton over claims he abused his office to benefit Paul. Top deputies reported him to the federal agency.
Four deputies who reported Paxton to the FBI, now all former employees, filed a lawsuit in November 2020 claiming they were retaliated against for whistleblowing.
$3.3 million settlement in the whistleblower lawsuit was agreed to in February, but money was subject to legislative approval.
It was revealed in May that the House Committee on General Investigating was investigating Paxton following the settlement request for millions at taxpayers’ expense. Investigators working on the committee’s behalf testified for hours on alleged misconduct during a May 24 hearing.
The committee on May 25 recommended the full House impeach Paxton.
The Texas House voted 121-23 on May 28 to impeach Paxton and send the articles to the Senate for a trial. A trial date of Sept. 5 was later set.
Numerous motions have been filed by the attorney general’s counsel and lawyers representing the House impeachment managers. Among the filings, the prosecuting attorneys shared thousands of pages of evidence, including document they say show Paxton used a fake alias, Dave P, on an Uber account set up by Paul to conceal rides to the home of his mistress.
Paxton and his attorneys have dismissed the impeachment as political theater.
Paxton’s lawyers include well-known Houston attorneys Tony Buzbee and and Dan Cogdell, who argue the articles of impeachment should be tossed out. Various articles are vague, lack supporting evidence and are not impeachable offenses, they said in motions. The lawyers also contend that all but one of the articles is invalid because the events took place before Paxton’s most recent election.
“RINOS and far-left radicals have established a kangaroo court in the TX Lege to eliminate America’s most conservative Attorney General,” Paxton said in fundraising post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Help me fight back!”
People to know in Senate trial
There are several names that will be useful to know during the impeachment trail. The most important, perhaps, is Paul, the real estate investor at the center of the debacle.
Paul donated $25,000 to Paxton in 2018.
Paxton is accused of misusing his office to benefit Paul. For example, the articles allege he had employees intervene in a lawsuit against businesses controlled by Paul and draft an opinion to help Paul avoid foreclosure sales on his properties and business. Paxton tried to conceal his actions by having Sen. Bryan Hughes request the opinion, the impeachment managers argue. Hughes is among the Senators acting as the jury in the impeachment trial. Paxton’s also accused of hiring outside counsel to investigate legal matters to aid Paul and giving him access to information that wasn’t public.
In exchange for favorable legal assistance and special access to the Attorney General’s Office, Paul funded Paxton’s home renovations and employed Paxton’s mistress, according to the articles.
“Indeed, as they stand, the articles allege nothing more than that the Attorney General had a personal relationship with a constituent and that the constituent found something the Attorney General did to be agreeable in some way,” Paxtons attorneys said in a motion to dismiss. “If that is enough to amount to a bribe, scarcely any elected official is innocent of the House’s notion of bribery. But it is not.”
Paul was indicted in June on charges he made false statements to influence the actions of financial institutions on loan applications.
He is among the witnesses expected to be called to testify during the trial, according to a list obtained by the Dallas Morning-News.
Also expected to be called up are the four whistleblowers who reported Paxton to the FBI, the Morning-News reported: Former Deputy Attorney General Blake Brickman, Chief Legal Officer Ryan Vassar, Deputy Attorney General Mark Penley and Director of Law Enforcement David Maxwell.
Patrick’s mistress, a former staff member of Sen. Donna Campbell, is also on the list of potential witnesses, the Morning-News reported.
Presiding over the proceedings is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his appointed counsel, former North Texas Justice Lana Myers, a Republican who served as justice of the Texas Fifth Court of Appeals, Place 4, from 2009 to 2022.
A $125,000 campaign loan from Patrick to Paxton reported by the Houston Chronicle has raised questions about a conflict of interest.
Senate rules preclude Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, a McKinney Republican, from participating in the trial but require she be present for the proceedings.
Acting as prosecutors are the House impeachment managers and their counsel: High-profile Houston attorneys Rusty Hardin and Rick DeGuerin. Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O’Neill, a Republican, was announced as an additional member of the House impeachment team Thursday.
Impeachment managers include Fort Worth Republican Charlie Geren.
The trial and its outcome is likely to make waves in the Texas Republican Party, said University of Houston Political Science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus, who has studied political scandal.
“The only times we’ve seen wholesale, major political change in Texas have been because of some major scandal that rocks one party or another,” he said. Later adding, ”This scandal has the possibility of dramatically changing the course of the Republican Party’s reign in Texas.”
An August poll from the Texas politics project found that 32% of Republicans do not think Paxton took actions as attorney general that justify his removal from office. Forty-three percent didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion and 24% thought his actions justified removal. Among Democrats, 71% think he should be removed from office.
The impeachment is a tricky political position for Republicans, Rottinghaus said. Already, groups like North Texas-based Defend Texas Liberty have waded into the trial, siding with Paxton. The group’s political action committee has given a $1 million donation and $2 million loan to Patrick since Paxton’s late-May impeachment.
The impeachment managers will not take political contributions during the trial, they announced Friday. The Texas Tribune reported that Patrick will also not take donations. A campaign spokesperson for the lieutenant governor did not immediately return a request for comment.
Buzbee, one of Paxton’s attorneys, encouraged donations to the attorney general in an emailed statement.
“We have made crystal clear in our public filings our position that Ken Paxton has been wrongly accused,” he said. “I hope that each and every person who agrees will absolutely contribute to our Attorney General Ken Paxton.”
The Senate is made up of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Twenty votes are needed to convict, which means nine Republicans would have to vote with Democrats to convict Paxton.
“The Republicans are basically stuck in a rock and a hard place,” Rottinghaus said.