Paxton acquittal updates: AG’s wife, a state senator, hugged his attorney after verdicts read

Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, hugs defense attorney Tony Buzbee after the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton  in the Texas Senate on September 16, 2023.
Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, hugs defense attorney Tony Buzbee after the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Texas Senate on September 16, 2023. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Texas senators have acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton on 16 articles of impeachment. Paxton was accused of misusing the powers of the attorney general’s office to help his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor who was under federal investigation.

The House impeachment managers insisted that they proved their claims of bribery and corruption, arguing that the jury of 30 senators had no choice but to convict. Paxton’s defense team successfully argued that the case was full of holes, circumstantial evidence and misdirection.

Sen. Angela Paxton, the attorney general’s wife, was prohibited from participating in deliberations or voting.

[Ken Paxton was acquitted. See how each Senator voted.]

Ken Paxton’s impeachment acquittal escalates Texas Republican civil war

Sept. 16, 2023 at 7:08 p.m.

Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial was the latest — and among the most consequential — battle in an ongoing civil war between the Texas GOP’s establishment members and a well-funded right wing that for years has claimed the party is insufficiently conservative.

Though the two factions generally agree on policy issues — and the Texas Legislature routinely leads the nation in passing socially conservative bills — the party’s far right has often accused members, specifically in the Texas House, of partnering with Democrats to undermine conservative priorities.

Paxton has played a key role in that fight, and has used his office to back the issues favored by the state’s most conservative flank. In turn, he has received millions of dollars from ultraconservative donors such as oil tycoons Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks, who have buoyed his campaigns as his legal woes mounted, approval ratings dropped and other, more establishment donors invested elsewhere.

— Robert Downen

For Paxton lawyers, the trial was a “sham.” House managers say it exposed a “corrupt politician.”

Sept. 16, 2023 at 5:46 p.m.

Opposing sides in Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial lashed out in the moments after senators voted Saturday to send the embattled attorney general back to his job.

“It was a joke for us to have to go through this,” said defense attorney Dan Cogdell, who derided the bipartisan House-led impeachment as “a sham.” “This should have never happened.”

House impeachment managers who drove the effort to oust Paxton disagreed, saying in a separate Capitol news conference that it was the vote to acquit that deserved condemnation.

“Managers presented overwhelming evidence that Ken Paxton is the most corrupt politician in the state of Texas at this time,” said Rep. Ann Johnson, a Houston Democrat and vice chair of the House team. “And the Republicans in the Texas Senate just returned him to the office of top cop.”

— Karen Brooks Harper and Robert Downen

Texans respond to Paxton acquittal with delight, disappointment

Sept. 16, 2023 at 5:38 p.m.

Texans across the state on Saturday reacted to the news of Ken Paxton’s acquittal with disappointment, blaming political polarization, or pleasure, saying the evidence fell short of convicting the attorney general.

Louis DeAngelis, 29, was visiting the Texas Capitol with a friend from Massachusetts when the Paxton verdict came down. DeAngelis, who works in video production in Austin, said the verdict showed that “people in power are not generally held to the same standard as everyone else.”

In West Texas, 57-year-old Maurice Torano of Odessa was “ecstatic” to hear that Paxton was cleared of the charges. Torano said the prosecution team had no real evidence and considered them an embarrassment to the Legislature. “It's a sham,” Torano said.

— Keaton Peters

Senate Democrats say Republicans wavered under political pressure during Paxton jury deliberations

Sept. 16, 2023 at 4:57 p.m.

Senate Democrats, disappointed by the acquittal of Attorney General Ken Paxton, accused their Republican colleagues of caving to political pressure, while many of the Republicans who voted against conviction said the House failed to prove its case.

“Simply put, the burden of proof — beyond a reasonable doubt — was not met,” state Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican, said in a statement released after voting ended in the historic impeachment trial on Saturday.

Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, rejected that argument from Republicans, instead blaming the failure to impeach on “outside influence placed on members.”

Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, described the roughly eight hours of deliberations as “intense,” noting that some senators switched into tennis shoes in preparation for a long process. He said many GOP senators were engaged in good-faith discussions about the evidence.

“But it makes me sad and exhausted because I feel like they didn't change anything,” Johnson said. “It didn’t change the outcome.”

— Kate McGee and Neelam Bohra

Trump congratulates Paxton on “Texas sized” impeachment victory

Sept. 16, 2023 at 4:53 p.m.

Former President Donald Trump congratulated Attorney General Ken Paxton for beating the impeachment charges against him Saturday — and called on the GOP leader of the Texas House to resign.

“Congratulations to Attorney General Ken Paxton on a great and historic Texas sized VICTORY,” Trump wrote Saturday afternoon on his social media platform Truth Social. “I also want to congratulate his wonderful wife and family for having had to go through this ordeal, and WINNING!”

Trump praised Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presided over the trial as judge, and Republican senators for rescuing Paxton, long a Trump loyalist. Trump turned his ire on House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican who has often feuded with Trump ally Patrick.

“It is time that Speaker Dade Phelan resign after pushing this Disgraceful Sham!” Trump wrote.

— Joshua Fechter

Ted Cruz and other officials weigh in on Paxton acquittal

Sept. 16, 2023 at 2:33 p.m.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, congratulated Attorney General Ken Paxton for beating the impeachment charges against him Saturday.

“Congrats to [Paxton] on being acquitted of every single article of impeachment,” Cruz wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “This was the right outcome, consistent with the will of the voters. I look forward to seeing Paxton back in office, continuing to serve as the most effective conservative AG in America.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been quiet about his feelings on the impeachment trial, struck a neutral tone in a prepared statement following Paxton’s acquittal: “The jury has spoken.”

Republicans in the Texas Legislature took to social media to celebrate Paxton’s acquittal — many praising the Senate’s push under Patrick to kill the effort while lambasting the House Republican-backed impeachment effort.

— Joshua Fechter

Rep. Toth calls for Phelan to resign “right now”

Sept. 16, 2023 at 2:31 p.m.

In an interview after Saturday’s Senate vote, state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, called on House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign “right now.” Toth, a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, voted against Ken Paxton’s impeachment in May.

“The Texas House owes all of Texas a big apology,” Toth said. “This was a sham.”

Toth also said the process has only hurt the Texas GOP, which has for years been plagued by infighting between its far-right members and its more moderate, but still deep-red, wing.

“This is terribly destructive to the Republican Party of Texas, and these guys knew that,” he said of House members who voted for impeachment. “They were warned that right up front, right before the vote was taken. I think there's going to be retribution by the voters, I really do.”

Asked what he thought Saturday’s vote portended for the growing schism between the Texas Senate and House, Toth responded: “I don’t know. It’s a mess."

— Robert Downen

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick blasts House over impeachment

Sept. 16, 2023 at 2:16 p.m.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick broke his personal silence Saturday on Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment after the Senate voted for acquittal, blasting the House’s impeachment process as deeply flawed.

“The speaker and his team rammed through the first impeachment of a statewide official in Texas in over 100 years while paying no attention to the precedent that the House set in every other impeachment before,” Patrick said from the dais after the verdict was finalized.

Patrick was the presiding officer of the trial — effectively the judge — and his feelings on the matter were the subject of much speculation. While he got praise for how he handled certain aspects, like the trial rules, he also drew scrutiny for accepting $3 million from a pro-Paxton group in late June.

Patrick began his remarks by acknowledging he had been “unusually quiet” in recent months because he wanted to respect his role in the process. He followed by unloading on the House for foisting the impeachment upon the Senate on short notice at the end of the regular session.

Patrick Svitek

Sen. Angela Paxton remains emotionless as senate acquits her husband

Sept. 16, 2023 at 1:52 p.m.

As Texas Senate Secretary Patsy Spaw read aloud the votes acquitting Republican Attorney Ken Paxton on 16 impeachment articles — and a vote to dismiss the remaining four articles — the only sound in the gallery was the chirp of crickets, pouring rain and the occasional roar of thunder.

Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, sat with a blank expression as she took notes and occasionally looked up at the gallery.

Ken Paxton was not present for the verdict.

His attorney, Tony Buzbee, sat facing the chamber as he listened to the Senate acquit his client. The gallery, which has been fairly empty since the first day of the trial, was moderately filled with tourists and political onlookers. Throughout the vote, House managers looked somber.

Whistleblowers David Maxwell, Ryan Vassar, and Blake Brickman watched in the gallery with solemn expressions as the Senate handed their former boss back his job. Former Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore sat with them.

After the votes on the impeachment were all read, Sen. Paxton gave a quick nod to her staffer sitting in the back of the chamber.

Afterwards, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ripped the House’s impeachment, calling on the Legislature to amend a “flawed” process. Democratic state Sens. Sarah Eckhardt and Roland Gutierrez walked out during his comments.

After the Senate adjourned, Sen. Paxton packed up her bag and hugged Republican state Sen. Bob Hall and her husband’s lawyers before leaving the chamber.

The crickets remained the loudest noise in the room.

— Kate McGee

Ken Paxton not present for verdict

Sept. 16, 2023 at 11:15 a.m.

Suspended attorney general Ken Paxton was not present in the Senate chamber as the senators have filed in to vote on the articles of impeachment in his trial.

Paxton was present Friday for closing arguments and on the first day of the trial while his lawyer pleaded not guilty on his behalf.

Kate McGee

Impeachment vote imminent as Senate finishes deliberations

Sept. 16, 2023 at 9:41 a.m.

Senators have completed private deliberations on the 16 articles of impeachment against suspended attorney general Ken Paxton after more than eight hours of deliberations.

A series of votes on each article was expected to begin at 10:30 a.m., according to the Texas Senate website. But it was delayed until 11:10 a.m.

Support from at least 21 senators on any article would lead to Paxton’s conviction and removal from office.

Paxton was present Friday morning for closing arguments, the first time he attended the trial since it opened Sept. 5, when his lawyer pleaded not guilty on his behalf. It’s unclear if he will return for the votes.

Kate McGee

Deliberations resume in Paxton impeachment trial

Sept. 16, 2023 at 9:21 a.m.

Senators are returning to the Capitol on Saturday morning to resume deliberations in the impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the trial, told senators to deliberate between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, or until they’ve reached a verdict. If they do not reach a verdict on Saturday, senators are required to return Sunday at noon. Patrick said he would consider sequestering the senators at the Capitol if they do not reach a verdict by 8 p.m. Sunday.

Once a verdict is reached, Patrick said they will give a 30-minute notice before starting a vote on the Senate floor on whether to convict or acquit on 16 articles of impeachment.

Kate McGee

Senators ended first day of deliberations without a verdict

Sept. 15, 2023 at 7:43 p.m.

Senators left the Capitol late Saturday after more than six hours of deliberating in the impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton without reaching a final verdict.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had told senators this afternoon to deliberate until at least 8 p.m. They are expected to return Saturday at 9 a.m. to continue deliberations.

Kate McGee

Get the data and visuals that accompany this story →