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Republican Texas AG Ken Paxton is acquitted of corruption charges at historic impeachment trial

By: Associated Press//September 18, 2023//

State Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, wife of suspended Texas state Attorney General Ken Paxton, left, embraces defense attorney Tony Buzbee, right, as they celebrate the acquittal of her husband in his impeachment trial in the Senate Chamber at the Texas Capitol, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Austin, Texas.

Republican Texas AG Ken Paxton is acquitted of corruption charges at historic impeachment trial

By: Associated Press//September 18, 2023//

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AUSTIN, Texas — Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was fully acquitted Saturday of corruption charges in 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. More broadly, it delivered a signature victory for the Texas GOP’s ascendant conservative wing following a trial that gave a rare window into divisions among Republicans nationally ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Accused of misusing his office to protect a campaign contributor, Paxton emerged from Texas’ first impeachment trial in nearly a half-century both politically intact and back at a job that won him conservative admirers across the U.S., including former President Donald Trump.

Paxton did not attend most of the trial and was not in the state Senate when the verdict was read.

“Today, the truth prevailed. The truth could not be buried by mudslinging politicians or their powerful benefactors,” he said in a statement afterward. “I’ve said many times: Seek the truth! And that is what was accomplished.”

More than three months after an overwhelming impeachment in the Texas House — where Republicans have a solid majority — Paxton was just as convincingly acquitted by Senate Republicans who serve alongside his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton.

She was not allowed a vote in the trial but attended all two weeks of the proceedings. Afterward, she walked over to the defense table and hugged her husband’s lawyers.

The trial was a showcase of both sober testimony and occasional spectacle. In accusing Paxton of abusing his office, former advisers recounted how he allegedly pressured them to help a political donor who was under FBI investigation. The testimony included arguments over who paid for home renovations, whether Paxton used burner phones and how his alleged extramarital affair became a strain on the office.

Paxton denied wrongdoing and his attorneys argued there was either no evidence or there wasn’t enough to rise beyond a reasonable doubt. They portrayed Paxton as the victim of a plot orchestrated by Republican rivals and waved to political conspiracies involving George P. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush, who unsuccessfully challenged Paxton in last year’s GOP primary.

Paxton was endorsed in that race by former President Donald Trump, who reaffirmed his support in the waning days of the trial and applauded the verdict. “The Ken Paxton Victory is sooo BIG. WOW!!!” Trump posted on Truth Social, his social media platform.

The jury of 30 senators spent about eight hours deliberating behind closed doors before emerging for the historic vote. The voting to acquit Paxton one by one on 16 charges of misconduct, bribery and corruption took more than an hour. Needing at least nine GOP senators to cross party lines, impeachment managers never got more than two on any one charge.

The Senate is led by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who was Texas chairman of Trump’s previous presidential campaigns and served as the trial’s presiding judge.

Patrick, a former conservative radio host in Houston, unleashed a blistering attack the moment the trial was over. He said the process was “rammed” through the Texas House and he 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,” he said.

Onlookers in the Senate gallery for the verdict included three of Paxton’s former deputies who reported him to the FBI in 2020 and testified in the trial. As the acquittals stacked up, one of them left midway through the verdict.

Democratic state Sen. Nathan Johnson described the senators’ deliberations as a hard and seemingly sincere process. “And then it collapsed,” he said.

He said it eventually became clear there would not be enough votes to convict and that may have led some senators to change their minds.

“When enough people fall away from conviction, it exposes any remaining Republican to very strong attack from the right,” Johnson said. “We reached the wrong result and it was the result of political pressures.”

Paxton 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.

Eight of his former deputies reported him to the FBI in 2020 over his relationship with Paul, setting off a federal investigation that is ongoing. 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.

Paul was indicted in June on charges of making false statements to banks. He pleaded not guilty. Testimony in the trial included a former Texas Ranger who said he warned Paxton he was risking indictment in trying to help Paul pursue claims of wrongdoing by federal agents and a judge.

Starting his career in the state legislature as a Tea Party insurgent, Paxton elevated his national profile by rushing his office into polarizing courtroom battles across the U.S., winning acclaim from Trump and the GOP’s hard right.  He was reelected twice, including last November.

“Attorney General Paxton has done an outstanding job representing Texas, especially pushing back against the Biden Administration,” Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said after the verdict. “I look forward to continuing to work with him to secure the border and protect Texas from federal overreach.”

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