By JAKE BLEIBERG and PAUL J. WEBER (Associated Press)
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The biggest threat to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s troubled career began Tuesday as the embattled Republican faced impeachment on corruption and bribery charges that have eclipsed one of the state’s most powerful figures for years.
The fate of 60-year-old Paxton rests in the hands of the Republican senators he served with before winning a statewide race to head the attorney general’s office in 2015. The chamber also includes his wife, State Senator Angela Paxton, who can attend the session. She is on trial but cannot vote on whether her husband should be convicted or acquitted.
Just before the historic proceedings began, Ken and Angela Paxton spoke for a few minutes in the Senate and briefly kissed.
Other senators were sworn in one by one while Paxton supporters, many in red shirts, looked on from the roughly half-full upstairs gallery. Other spectators cheered as the impeachment officers who will present the case against Paxton entered the room.
“It’s the Austin swamp,” said Kaci Sisk, who leads a group of conservative activists near San Antonio that supports Paxton, and arrived before dawn to snag a seat on the gallery. “This thing was a sham from the start.”
At a time of bitter partisanship, the historic trial is a rare example of a political party attempting to hold one of its own to account for allegations of wrongdoing. The impeachment was also a sudden rebuke for Paxton, who has built a nationwide reputation fighting high-profile litigation, including trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and winning a third term in 2022 despite long-pending state criminal charges and an FBI criminal complaint -Investigation.
The Republican-led House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in May to impeach Paxton, largely over allegations by his former deputies that the attorney general used his power to help a wealthy donor who returned the favor with favors, including hiring a woman with whom Paxton had an extramarital affair. The 20 articles of impeachment include abuse of public trust, unfitness and bribery.
The 121-23 vote immediately voted Paxton out of office, making him the third incumbent officer in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to face impeachment.
Paxton called the impeachment a “politically motivated fraud” and an attempt to disenfranchise his constituents. The attorney general’s attorneys say he will not testify in the Senate trial. He has said he expects an acquittal.
Paxton faces a jury — the state’s 31 senators — composed of his ideological allies and a “judge,” Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who borrowed $125,000 for his last re-election campaign. Two other senators are implicated in the allegations against Paxton.
As reporters and members of the public entered the Senate gallery, Angela Paxton, in a bright red skirt and jacket, walked across the room and spoke to the room secretary.
Over the weekend, Ken and Angela Paxton gathered their supporters for a picnic near their hometown in suburban Dallas. It was a rare public appearance for Paxton, who told the crowd he couldn’t speak about the trial because of a non-disclosure obligation but attacked the Republicans who were leading his impeachment in the Texas House of Representatives.
“Let’s clean up the house,” Paxton told the crowd.
Peter Bowen, 74, left Houston at 3:30 a.m. to line up for the Senate before sunrise. He said Paxton, who was re-elected to a third term last November, has been indicted for his support of former President Donald Trump and that voters have already made it clear where they stand.
“We all knew about them and voted for him. “They are taking the voice of the majority of the Texas population,” Bowen said.
A two-thirds majority – or 21 senators – is required for a conviction. That means if all 12 Senate Democrats vote against Paxton, at least nine of the 19 Republicans still have to vote.
The trial will likely produce new evidence. But the outline of the allegations against Paxton have been public since 2020, when eight of his top deputies told the FBI that the attorney general was breaking the law to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.
The deputies — mostly conservatives whom Paxton selected for their posts — told investigators that Paxton acted against their advice and hired an outside attorney to investigate Paul’s allegations of FBI misconduct in its investigation into the developer. They also said Paxton pressured its staff to take other actions that helped Paul.
In return, Paul allegedly hired a former adviser to a Republican senator with whom Paxton was having an affair and funded the renovation of one of the attorney general’s homes, a million-dollar home in Austin.
Paul was charged in June with state criminal charges alleging that he made false statements to banks to secure more than $170 million in loans. He pleaded not guilty and broadly denied wrongdoing in dealing with Paxton.
According to a memo from an employee who contacted the FBI, the two men shared a common sense that they were the target of corrupt law enforcement agencies. Paxton was charged with securities fraud in 2015 but has yet to appear in court. The Senate is not addressing, at least initially, three impeachment articles relating to the alleged securities fraud and a fourth relating to Paxton’s ethics motions.
Federal prosecutors continue to investigate Paul and Paxton’s relationship, so the evidence presented during his impeachment trial poses both legal and political risk to the attorney general.
After going to the FBI, all eight of Paxton’s deputies resigned or were fired. Their departures led to a brain drain of other experienced attorneys and left the Attorney General’s office dysfunctional behind the scenes.
Four of the deputies later sued Paxton under the state’s whistleblower statute. The bipartisan group of lawmakers that spearheaded Paxton’s House impeachment trial said it was he who sought $3.3 million in taxpayer money to settle with the group, prompting them to investigate his deals.
https://www.twincities.com/2023/09/05/texas-ag-ken-paxton-faces-charges-of-corruption-and-bribery-as-his-impeachment-trial-gets-underway/ Texas AG’s Ken Paxton faces corruption and bribery charges as his impeachment trial begins – Twin Cities