State of Texas: Senators face historic duty in Paxton impeachment trial

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Tuesday, Texas Senators will take on a constitutional duty that few in the state’s history have faced before: acting as jurors in a court of impeachment. The Senate chamber will become a courtroom for the impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.

At the end of May, the House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton on allegations that include making false statements, obstructing justice, accepting bribes from a campaign donor and more. 

KXAN will have live coverage for the entirety of the Ken Paxton impeachment trial. Click here for in-depth coverage and the latest live stream of the trial.

Although an impeachment trial is purely political, in the sense that lawmakers are not bringing any criminal charges against Paxton, legal experts note that the process will likely mirror what happens in a criminal or civil courtroom. The House acts like a grand jury, with their vote signifying that the majority found there was enough probable cause to impeach Paxton. In the court of impeachment, senators will act as jurors, rendering a verdict that will decide if there is proof beyond reasonable doubt that Paxton committed impeachable offenses and should be removed from office.

Central to many of the allegations is Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, a campaign donor and friend of Paxton. Former top aides in the Office of Attorney General accused Paxton of misusing his office to help Paul and accepting bribes. Paxton denies all accusations about his relationship with Paul, as well as all other allegations of wrongdoing in his impeachment articles. 

The Texas attorney general is tasked with protecting charitable organizations when they face lawsuits. Article 1 accuses Paxton of violating that duty by improperly intervening in litigation between Paul and a charity called the Mitte Foundation.

Article 2 concerns another favor lawmakers asserted Paxton did for Paul. It explains Paxton issued a legal opinion to prevent the foreclosure of some of Paul’s properties, in contradiction of his employees’ original legal opinion.

Article 3 asserts Paxton issued illegal rulings to block public information requests concerning records within the Department of Public Safety related to Paul.

Article 4 again implicates Paxton’s relationship with Paul, asserting Paxton misused his official power to improperly obtain private information and divulge records to Paul.

“Specifically, Paxton improperly obtained access to information held by his office that had not been publicly disclosed for the purpose of providing the information to the benefit of Nate Paul,” the resolution states.

Article 5 claims Paxton improperly hired a special prosecutor to benefit Paul. Paxton hired attorney Brandon Cammack to investigate a complaint on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office and in service to Paul. The committee asserts Paxton did not have the authority to hand-pick a special prosecutor to conduct state business and Cammack was unqualified to act as a prosecutor on behalf of the attorney general.

Article 6 accuses Paxton of taking “adverse personnel action” against top-ranking OAG employees who raised public ethical complaints against him. 

“Paxton terminated employees of his office who made good faith reports of his unlawful actions to law enforcement authorities,” the resolution reads, asserting Paxton’s actions were in violation of state law protecting whistleblowers.

Article 7 accuses Paxton of misusing records to conduct a “sham investigation” into the whistleblower complaints and publish a report “containing false or misleading statements in Paxton’s defense,” per the resolution.

Article 8 accuses Paxton of concealing information from the public by entering a settlement with the whistleblowers. It describes this action as a way to stall their wrongful termination lawsuit and prevent courts from discovering evidence.

According to the resolution, this “deprived the electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general.” Paxton was re-elected in 2022 in the midst of his legal troubles with whistleblowers.

Article 9 accuses Paxton of accepting a bribe from donor Paul. It says Paul received favorable treatment from the attorney general in exchange for Paul’s employment of a woman “with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.”

Article 10 accuses Paxton of accepted bribery in the form of renovations to his home paid for by Paul. In exchange, “Paul received favorable legal assistance from, or specialized access to, the office of the Attorney General,” read the resolution.

Article 11 accuses Paxton of using his influence as attorney general to obstruct legal proceedings against him.

Paxton was indicted in 2015 for federal securities fraud – two felony charges of first and third degrees. The impeachment articles assert Paxton “concealed the facts underlying his criminal charges from voters by causing a protracted delay of the trial.” This, in effect, deprived Texas voters of making an informed decision when they chose Paxton again to be the state’s attorney general.

Article 12 accuses Paxton of further obstruction of justice. It says Paxton benefited from a lawsuit made by Jeff Blackard, one of his campaign donors. That lawsuit “disrupted payment of the prosecutors in a criminal securities fraud case against Paxton.” 

The ethics committee asserted the lawsuit thwarted the trial against Paxton, delayed the discovery of evidence and, again, “deprived the electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general.”

Articles 13 and 14 accuse Paxton of making false statements in official records to mislead public officials. They assert Paxton made false statements to the State Securities Board to cover up his failure to register with them before selling stocks. Article 14 also asserts Paxton failed to disclose financial interests to the Texas Ethics Commission, which is required by law.

Article 15 asserts Paxton made false statements in a “lengthy written report” in response to whistleblower accusations to mislead public officials and the public.

Article 16 says Paxton “acted with others to conspire, or attempt to conspire, to commit acts described in one or more articles.”

Article 17 says Paxton misused his official powers by causing employees to perform services for his benefit and the benefit of others — ostensibly using the time, and thus the payment, of state employees for personal favors.

Article 18 asserts these offenses amount to a violation of the Texas Constitution and his oaths of office, “acting contrary to the interest of the public.”

Article 19 asserts these offenses amount to an unfitness for office.

Senators will vote on 16 of the 20 articles of impeachment when the trial begins Tuesday, Sept. 5. The trial will be held publicly in the Senate chamber, beginning with votes on pre-trial motions.

Paxton’s attorneys have requested the Senate dismiss all of the articles of impeachment. If Lt. Governor Dan Patrick — who will preside over the trial — decides to grant that motion, two-thirds of senators will have to agree on dismissal with a vote on individual articles.

Paxton’s wife Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, will sit on the court of impeachment but is barred from voting or participating in closed sessions or deliberations. Because she is still a member of the impeachment court, the voting threshold for conviction is the same.

According to the Texas Constitution, there must be a two-thirds majority of senators — 21 of the 31 — in order to convict Paxton. Members will vote on each individual article and one conviction vote will result in his removal from office. Senators may also decide to vote to bar Paxton from holding future office, which requires the same two-thirds voting threshold.

After votes on pre-trial motions, the trial will officially begin with opening statements. First, attorneys working on behalf of the House impeachment managers will present evidence and call witnesses who will be cross-examined by Paxton’s lawyers. The suspended attorney general’s defense team will have the same ability to present evidence and call witnesses who are subject to cross-examination.

The trial will feature a star-studded legal team on both sides — with Houston criminal defense attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin prosecuting the case on behalf of the House impeachment managers, and Tony Buzbee and Dan Cogdell working as the lead defense attorneys for Paxton.

It is unclear how long the trial will last, but some senators have said publicly they anticipate it could be anywhere from four to six weeks. Each day the trial will begin at 9 a.m.

“We are going to be locked in that room for eight, nine hours a day. You know, listening to the evidence,” said State Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, during an interview for Nexstar’s State of Texas politics program. “Ken Paxton will get a fair trial, same fair trial, impartial judgment that everybody should get in that situation. And we’ll see how it all goes.”

Cash, connections, and conflicts of interest precede Paxton impeachment trial

As state senators prepare to decide the fate of Texas’ top law enforcement official, many of them face a recent history of political activity tying them to the defendant as GOP mega-donors work behind the scenes to tilt the scales.

In June, campaign finance records revealed the pro-Paxton “Defend Texas Liberty” political action committee (PAC) donated $3 million to Patrick, who will preside over the impeachment trial.

The donation immediately prompted condemnation from some senators and observers concerned about the influence of money in the quasi-judicial process.

“All of the support that we’ve ever given to elected officials after a session has been because they fought hard to deliver conservative policy results for Texans,” said conservative activist and Defend Texas Liberty leader Luke Macias, framing the donation as a retroactive appreciation for the Senate’s conservative record rather than a push for favorable treatment for Paxton.

Jonathan Stickland, the PAC’s president and former legislator, implied the donation was intended to influence the trial.

“This is just the beginning. Wait till you see the next report,” Defending Texas Liberty founder Jonathan Stickland wrote on social media in July. “We will never stop. Ever. Grassroots conservatives will be heard.”

The PAC has further threatened to mount primary challenges against senators who vote to convict Paxton.

“Anyone that votes against Ken Paxton in this impeachment is risking their entire political career, and we will make sure that is the case,” said Stickland on a program hosted by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon on Aug. 24.

“A vote to impeach Ken Paxton does put a senator against most of their Republican voters and on the side of Democrats, and that often does lead to them getting opposition from a very broad conservative coalition. Defend Texas Liberty PAC is often in that coalition,” Macias told Nexstar.

Campaign finance reports from Transparency USA show 95% of Defend Texas Liberty’s donations come from just two West Texas billionaires: Timm Dunn and Farris Wilks, conservatives who have long been donors to Paxton.

The PAC said they are not lobbying Patrick or the senators directly; rather, they are encouraging grassroots Republicans to urge their representatives to dismiss the articles of impeachment facing Paxton.

Virginia-based “San Jacinto 2023” spent $37,000 on ads urging voters to call their senators and tell them to “end the sham impeachment,” The Texas Tribune explained. The ads aired on Fox News at least once during the Republican presidential debate and targeted individual senators.

Senators themselves have also demonstrated a history of supporting, or defying, the suspended Attorney General.

As Nexstar first reported on Aug. 21, multiple senators have given thousands of dollars to Paxton’s campaign and his political rivals, prompting watchdog groups to question their impartiality.

According to Texas Ethics Commission records, Galveston-area state senator Mayes Middleton donated $300,000 to Louie Gohmert, the East Texas Congressman who ran to unseat Paxton in 2022. The donation came on Nov. 26, 2021 — just four days after Gohmert announced his campaign. Gohmert based his campaign on Paxton’s “improprieties,” often citing the suspended Attorney General’s fraud and bribery accusations.

In June 2021, Midland Republican state senator Kevin Sparks donated $2,500 to Paxton.

Across party lines, San Antonio state senator José Menéndez donated $1,000 to Rochelle Garza, the Democratic candidate for attorney general in 2022, in Sep. 2022. That donation was made just two weeks before the general election.

Menendez’s office told Nexstar they would not be commenting on the matter, citing the gag order imposed on all parties to the impeachment proceedings. Neither Middleton nor Sparks responded to a request for comment.

Yet, all these senators will decide whether to remove Paxton from office. That is a departure from a standard applied by Republican appellate judge Marc Brown, who declined an offer to help preside over the trial due to a $250 he made to Eva Guzman in 2022.

Two senators are on the list of witnesses whom Paxton prosecutors intend to call to the stand, while at least one has a clear connection to Paxton’s alleged mistress.

Sen. Bryan Hughes

East Texas Republican Bryan Hughes is implicated in the articles of impeachment. The House accuses the Paxton of asking Hughes to request a legal opinion from the Attorney General’s Office as a favor to Paxton ally and donor Paul.

Sen. Donna Campbell

New Braunfels Republican Donna Campbell’s Senate office used to employ Laura Olson, the woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an extramarital affair. Olson is also listed as a witness.

Sen. Angela Paxton

North Texas Republican Angela Paxton is the defendant’s wife. She is also a potential witness. Per the Senate’s trial rules, she is prohibited from voting on the fate of her husband. However, she will be required to be present for the trial.

By requiring her presence, the Senate effectively raises the barrier to convicting Paxton by one vote since conviction requires two-thirds of members.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick

Patrick’s campaign donated $250,000 to Paxton’s campaign in 2018, half of which was as a loan.

Patrick has maintained the Senate will conduct a fair and impartial trial, and the senators will weigh the evidence to make an independent determination of Paxton’s guilt or innocence.

“The citizens of Texas can count on the Senate of Texas to have a fair and just trial,” he said.

On the Friday before the trial, Patrick said that he will not be accepting any campaign donations during the process.

Poll shows Paxton’s popularity dropping before start of impeachment trial

Paxton’s legal team has made the case that impeachment goes against the will of Texas voters. They point out that he won re-election despite voters knowing about the accusations against him. But the impeachment has brought more, and more detailed accusations against Paxton, and polling seems to show a shift.

With his impeachment trial just days away, a new poll shows nearly 50% of registered Texas voters think it is justified to remove Paxton from office based on the actions he took as attorney general.

Survey data collected through The University of Texas’ Texas Politics Project from August 18-29 illustrates this. However, between Republicans, Independents and Democrats, those opinions differ.

An overwhelming 71% of Democrats answered yes to that question. In comparison, only 42% of Independents said yes, and a much lower 24% of Republicans said yes.

Instead, about 43% of both Independents and Republicans’ opinions on whether it is justified to remove him from office answered, “they didn’t know” or had “no opinion”.

“First and foremost, this is a very complicated case,” explained Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project. “More broadly, people don’t pay a lot of attention to the Attorney General, to that level of government… people are generally not paying attention to politics, especially during the summer,” Henson added.

The Texas Politics Project asked a similar question earlier this summer, asking whether voters believed the House impeachment of Paxton was justified. June’s polling data showed that overall, 50% felt impeaching Paxton was justified, 17% thought it was not justified, and 33% held no opinion.

However, one major statistic that has changed is Paxton’s approval rating. Only 27% approved of the job he’s done as attorney general, while 46% disapproved. This is the lowest Paxton’s ever had in 14 polls conducted since April 2021.

“I’m very concerned,” Cornyn weighs in on Paxton impeachment

Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, has a unique perspective on the upcoming impeachment trial. Cornyn served as the state’s Attorney General from 1999 to 2002. Since being elected to the U.S. Senate, the Republican has served through two impeachment trials on Capitol Hill.

Cornyn spoke to reporters after an event in Austin and answered questions about his views of the accusations facing Paxton.

“Having been Attorney General, I’m very concerned,” Cornyn said. “I think everybody needs to make sure that there’s no whiff of politics, and that it is basically doing the job that constitution requires the Senate as a jury, or court really sitting as an impeachment court do just considering the evidence.”

A reporter asked him if he were in the Texas Senate, would he vote to convict.

“I haven’t yet heard the evidence yet, other than what’s been published in the press,” Cornyn responded. “I am concerned.”

He pointed out that the evidence released by the House Managers has not been tested by cross examination, and it’s too early to make judgments.

“Everybody is going to make their own decision about the credibility and the weight given to that evidence. But in the end, it’s not my job. And it’s not your job. It’s the job of the members of the of the Texas Senate to render their verdict. And we’re all going to be watching with great interest,” Cornyn said.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button