AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was fully acquitted Saturday of corruption charges following a historic impeachment trial, a resounding verdict that reaffirms the power of the GOP’s hard right and puts an indicted incumbent who remains under FBI investigation back into office.
The outcome demonstrated Paxton’s enduring durability in America’s biggest red state after years of criminal charges and scandal. It also delivered a signature victory for the Texas GOP’s ascendent conservative wing following a dramatic trial that put on display the fractures among Republicans nationally heading into 2024.
More than three months after an overwhelming impeachment in the Texas House, which is controlled by Republicans, Paxton was just as convincingly acquitted by Senate Republicans who serve alongside his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton.
Angela Paxton was not allowed to vote but attended all of the trial, including one dramatic moment when a woman was called to publicly testify about an affair she had with her husband, only to never actually take the witness stand. In end, all but two Senate Republicans voted to acquit Ken Paxton on each of the 16 impeachment articles that accused him of misconduct, bribery and corruption.
Ken Paxton did not attend the verdict but triumphantly declared victory afterward.
“Today, the truth prevailed. The truth could not be buried by mudslinging politicians or their powerful benefactors,” Paxton said. “I’ve said many times: Seek the truth! And that is what was accomplished.”
The Senate also separately voted to dismiss four impeachment articles that weren’t taken up at the trial.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also quickly welcomed Paxton back to the job moments after the conclusion of the trial, which included a former Trump nominee testifying how Paxton allegedly broke the law in order to protect one of his political donors.
The outcome far from ends Paxton’s troubles. He still faces trial on felony securities fraud charges, remains under a separate FBI investigation and is in jeopardy of losing his ability to practice law in Texas because of his baseless attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
The jury of 30 senators spent about eight hours deliberating behind closed doors before emerging for the historic vote. The Senate is led by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who served as Texas chairman of Trump’s previous presidential campaigns, and who served as the presiding judge for the trial.
Patrick, a former conservative radio host in Houston, had said little about the case leading up to the trial. But once it was over, he unleashed a blistering attack over the impeachment ever getting this far in the first place.
Still sitting on the podium where he oversaw the trial, Patrick said the process had been “rammed” through the Texas House and vowed to pursue a change to the state constitution so it couldn’t happen again.
“Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment,” Patrick said.
In Senate gallery, among those who staked out an early seat for the impeachment vote were three of Paxton’s former deputies who reported him to the FBI in 2020 and were key witnesses during the trial for House impeachment managers. One of them left before the conclusion of the verdict as it became clear the votes were going Paxton’s way.
There was no visible reaction from the former deputies — David Maxwell, Ryan Vassar and Blake Brickman — after Paxton was acquitted on Article 6, termination of whistleblowers.
After the trial was concluded, Angela Paxton went over to her husband’s legal team and hugged them before leaving the chamber.
For nearly a decade, Paxton has elevated his national profile by rushing his office into polarizing courtroom battles across the U.S., winning acclaim from Donald Trump and the GOP’s hard right.
Making one final appeal to convict Texas’ top lawyer, impeachment managers used their closing arguments Friday to cast him as a crook who needed to go.
“If we don’t keep public officials from abusing the powers of their office, then frankly no one can,” Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, who helped lead the impeachment in the Texas House, said in his closing arguments.
In an angry and defiant rebuttal, Paxton lawyer Tony Buzbee used closing arguments on Friday to unleashed attacks on a wide-ranging cast of figures both inside and outside the Texas Capitol. Buzbee portrayed the impeachment as a plot orchestrated by an old guard of GOP rivals. He singled out George P. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush who challenged Paxton in the 2022 Republican primary, punctuating a blistering closing argument that questioned the integrity of FBI agents and railed against Texas’ most famous political dynasty.
The case centered on accusations that Paxton misused his office to help one of his donors, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who was indicted in June on charges of making false statements to banks. Paul has pleaded not guilty.
Eight of Paxton’s former deputies reported him to the FBI in 2020, setting off a federal investigation that will continue regardless of the verdict. Federal prosecutors investigating Paxton took testimony in August before a grand jury in San Antonio , according to two people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because of secrecy rules around the proceeding.
During closing arguments, the defense told senators there was either no evidence for the charges or that there wasn’t enough to rise beyond a reasonable doubt. The House impeachment managers, by contrast, walked through specific documents and played clips of testimony by the deputies who reported Paxton to the FBI.
One of the impeachment articles centers on an alleged extramarital affair Paxton had with Laura Olson, who worked for Paul. It alleges that Paul’s hiring of Olson amounted to a bribe. She was called to the witness stand but ultimately never testified. Another article alleges the developer also bribed Paxton by paying for his home renovations.
Paxton faces an array of legal troubles beyond the impeachment. Besides the federal investigation for the same allegations that gave rise to his impeachment, he also faces a bar disciplinary proceeding over his effort to overturn the 2020 election and has yet to stand trial on state securities fraud charges dating to 2015.
He pleaded not guilty in the state case.