The Texas Senate voted Saturday to acquit state Attorney General Ken Paxton after a nine-day impeachment trial that centered on corruption allegations and divided the Republican Party.
Paxton, a three-term incumbent who had been suspended from office since his ouster in May, was immediately reinstated.
The impeachment case has deepened the divide in the Republican Party in Texas, with those who lined up behind Paxton attacking Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives who backed impeachment by a wide margin.
The process was overseen by Republicans, with Republicans on both the defense and prosecution, but ultimately the majority of Republicans in the Senate supported Mr. Paxton. Only two Republican senators voted in favor of condemnation for any article. Since a two-thirds vote is required for conviction, no article received even a majority vote.
Paxton, an ally of former President Donald J. Trump who appeared at the trial only twice and was not present for the vote, later responded to what he called a “sham impeachment” that he said had been coordinated in part by a “kangaroo”. court” in the Texas House of Representatives.
“Using the impeachment process as a weapon to resolve political differences is not only wrong, but also immoral and corrupt,” he said in a statement.
He added a warning to the Biden administration, which he has targeted as attorney general with a series of legal challenges focused on immigration, abortion and transgender issues. “Buckle up, because his anarchic policies will not go unanswered,” he said.
His wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, who was not allowed to vote on the case, stood after the vote and hugged or shook hands with attorneys representing her husband, including Tony Buzbee, a trial attorney for Houston who was one of the many senior officials. -Powerful lawyers involved in the case on both sides.
Gov. Greg Abbott, who had not previously commented on the impeachment trial, said afterward that “the jury has spoken.” He said Paxton had received a fair trial and, as attorney general, “has done an outstanding job representing Texas, especially fighting the Biden administration.”
After Saturday’s vote, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who had served as a judge during the trial and maintained studied impartiality, gave a speech criticizing his fellow House Republicans for even sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial. . .
He accused House leaders of hastily examining the case without giving members enough time to consider the evidence. The House passed 20 articles of impeachment in May by a vote of 121 to 23, including a majority of Republicans.
“Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment trial,” Patrick said. He said the Senate had conducted a thorough trial, which included hundreds of subpoenas for information and testimony. As he spoke, a Democratic senator emerged from the Senate chamber.
There had been substantial political pressure from the conservative wing of the Republican Party to support Paxton, including threats to file primary challenges against lawmakers who supported impeachment.
Trump, in a post on the Truth Social platform, described the case against Paxton as “political persecution” and applauded the acquittal. “We should elect our elected officials by VOTING, not weaponizing the government,” he wrote.
Before the trial began, Patrick received a $1 million contribution and a $2 million loan for his campaign from Defend Texas Liberty, a group strongly backing Paxton, whose post-acquittal leader vowed to “lead the charge to fire.” to those Republicans. who had supported the impeachment.
Patrick said he would call for an official audit of the Texas House’s spending on its impeachment investigation and trial.
But his criticism prompted an immediate reaction from Republican Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan. “I find it deeply disturbing that after weeks of stating that he would preside over this trial impartially and honestly, Lt. Governor Patrick concluded by confessing his bias and showing his contempt for the House of People,” Mr. Phelan said. it’s a statement.
Some of the senators, who had been prevented from speaking during the trial due to a gag order imposed by Patrick, emerged from the vote eager to discuss the case.
“There was no evidence,” said Sen. Bob Hall, a conservative Republican who voted to throw out all the articles at the start of the trial.
Democratic Senator Nathan Johnson disagreed. “He abused his powers, not in a subtle way,” he said of Paxton, adding that the case had been proven by the evidence. He said he looked outside during the vote, “and I saw the American flag and the Texas flag waving loudly in the wind and the rain, and I felt bad, because what are we doing with what those flags represent inside?” of this building?”
The two Republicans who voted to convict were Kelly Hancock, who represents an urban and suburban district that includes parts of Fort Worth, and Robert Nichols, an occasional iconoclast whose East Texas district includes the city of Beaumont.
All 12 Democratic senators voted to convict nearly all of the 16 articles considered during the trial.
Despite having managed to avoid conviction, Paxton still has legal problems ahead. He faces a 8-year criminal charge on charges of securities fraud, a case that has begun to move forward again in state court in Houston.
And a federal investigation into Paxton, prompted by many of the same charges explored during the impeachment trial, is still ongoing.
The impeachment trial centered on allegations, made primarily by former high-ranking deputies turned whistleblowers, that Paxton had abused his office to help an Austin real estate investor, Nate Paul, who had donated to his campaign. and faced federal prosecution. criminal investigation and also the possible foreclosure of some of his properties.
The complainants expressed concern that Paxton appeared to be doing everything he could to help Paul. The articles of impeachment, based in part on his testimony, presented allegations that Paul had enlisted Paxton’s help in his legal matters in exchange for paying for renovations to his home and providing a job for a woman Paxton was with. having an extramarital relationship.
Both Paxton and Paul have denied wrongdoing, and Paxton’s attorneys presented evidence that one of the renovations Paul allegedly paid for (new granite countertops) was never completed.
On other occasions they managed to undermine prosecution witnesses, at one point getting a former top aide to Mr. Paxton, Ryan Vassar, to say that he had reported the attorney general to the FBI without presenting “any evidence” of possible crimes. .
“You went to the FBI on September 30 with your fellow Americans and reported the elected attorney general of this state for a crime without any evidence, right?” said J. Mitchell Little, Mr. Paxton’s attorney.
“That’s right, we didn’t take evidence,” Vassar responded, although it was later noted that the complainants had provided something equally important: their own testimony.
The defense argued that Paxton was the victim of a plot by moderate Republicans to overthrow him.
“You were staging a coup, weren’t you?” said one of the defense attorneys, Mr. Buzbee, while cross-examining Mr. Paxton’s former top aide, Jeff Mateer.
“Of course not,” Mateer said.
After the vote, Mr. Buzbee applauded the result. “This was a herculean task,” he said. “We were proud of this case. “We just shouldn’t have had to prove our innocence, but that’s what we did.”
Saturday’s proceedings, after nearly a full day of closed-door deliberations the day before, unfolded without any obvious drama. Senators cast their votes for or against impeachment, writing them on a piece of paper on their desks and handing them out to be read aloud, one by one, for each of the articles of impeachment.
As they voted, the Senate chamber was almost completely silent. A storm passed over the Capitol, breaking the silence with thunder. From time to time, the sound of crickets, which have invaded Austin in recent days, could be heard in the spectator stands and, in some cases, they jumped between the chairs.
In the end, the vote resembled many that take place in the staunchly conservative Texas Senate, where Patrick rules with a heavy hand and legislation is adopted almost exclusively by party-line votes.