April 20, 2024

Texas AG Acquitted of 16 Charges, Will Remain in Office

The embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton avoided an impeachment conviction on Saturday with Texas’ Republican-majority state Senate determining his alleged corruption with a top donor didn’t warrant a conviction.

The vote came after a contentious impeachment trial that split Republicans for and against Paxton. The first to levy corruption allegations were the hand-selected members of Paxton’s own office, who said they turned on their boss after he ignored their pleas to quit giving the real-estate tycoon Nate Paul special treatment.

Paxton, 60, was then hit with 16 impeachment charges in May. Most notably, he was accused of thwarting a federal fraud probe into Paul by hiring an outside attorney to scrutinize federal search warrants for Paul’s home and businesses—a move that puzzled those closest to Paxton and later unraveled a slew of other wrongdoings.

Four whistleblowers left Paxton’s office after they dished to FBI agents—information they later revealed to the public in a lawsuit against Paxton. They accused Paxton of accepting bribes from Paul, ordering top staffers to research ways to help Paul, and concocting phony COVID-19 gathering restrictions to postpone Paul’s foreclosure auctions.

Those accusations were central to Paxton’s impeachment trial, which called on whistleblowers to testify but didn’t require Paxton to take the stand or even attend most days.

Jeff Mateer, the former second-in-command to Paxton, testified on Sept. 6 that Paxton’s relationship with Paul was perplexing from the jump. He said he feared Paxton was being blackmailed, but said he “couldn’t protect him because he didn’t want to be protected.”

Mateer testified that the reasoning behind Paxton’s relationship with Paul came into focus once he learned Paxton was having an affair with a woman Paul was tied to. Mateer said Paxton had been seeing his old mistress again—a woman on the payroll of Paul’s construction company despite not being qualified for the gig.

That testimony was backed up by details uncovered in a House investigation, which revealed Paxton used a burner phone and a pseudonym to hail Ubers to visit his secret lover. While defense attorneys insisted the affair—the second of Paxton’s career—was irrelevant to Paxton’s impeachment, witnesses testified otherwise.

Mateer said the hidden relationship “answered the question” as to why Paxton was willing to stick his neck out for Paul, a shady Austin businessman who was arrested by the feds on undisclosed charges in June.

“I concluded that Mr. Paxton was engaged in conduct that was immoral, unethical, and I had the good faith belief that it was illegal,” Mateer said.

Paxton’s impeachment and removal was a shakeup to the Texas GOP’s status quo. Nearly half of the state representatives—60 out of 121 total—who voted to impeach Paxton were Republicans, some of whom once considered him a close ally. Republican Rep. Jeff Leach, who called Paxton a “mentor” and a “brother in Christ,” had encouraged his Senate colleagues to vote to convict in closing arguments on Friday.

“I have loved Ken Paxton for a long time,” Leach said. “I’ve done life with Ken Paxton. We’ve traveled together. Attend church together. I’ve block-walked for Ken. I’ve donated to Ken. I’ve supported Ken, I’ve asked others to do the same… Which is one of the reasons this is so difficult for me and many of our House members, and I know will be for many of you as well.”

Paxton was the first statewide Texas official to be impeached in 48 years. The last was Gov. James E. Ferguson but he evaded conviction in 1975 and remained in office. The former Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson was impeached and convicted in 1917 after senators determined he’d misallocated public funds away from the University of Texas and received $156,000 from an unnamed source.

The structure of Ferguson’s trial varied greatly from Paxton’s. He testified over five days and attended each session. Paxton, meanwhile, did not testify and was notably absent from the Senate chambers as early as the afternoon session on Sept. 5, the first day of the trial.

Paxton’s impeachment hearing isn’t the only turmoil he finds himself in.

He was recently named in a lawsuit by the state’s bar, which accused him of misconduct for asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 2020 election despite having no proof of widespread voter fraud—an offense that could see him disbarred.

And he still faces the possibility of jail time as he battles securities fraud charges, stemming from his first few months in office as Texas’ top prosecutor. He is scheduled to go to trial in Houston next year on first-degree felonies that carry a punishment of up to 99 years in prison if convicted.

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