A majority of state senators, serving as jurors in his historic impeachment trial, acquitted Paxton in separate votes on each of 16 articles. The count never came close to the two-thirds required to convict and remove Paxton from office; Republicans largely sided with Paxton and Democrats against.
Senators followed those votes by dismissing, at once, the four remaining articles of impeachment, which dealt with the attorney general’s still-pending state securities indictments.
Paxton, who did not attend the proceedings Saturday, released a statement calling his impeachment a “shameful process” and promising a swift return to work.
“Today, the truth prevailed,” Paxton said. “The truth could not be buried by mudslinging politicians or their powerful benefactors.”
The allegations against Paxton included abuse of office, bribery and obstruction of justice. He was accused of trying to help thwart an FBI investigation into Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and campaign donor, in exchange for a home kitchen remodel and a job for a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair.
The impeachment trial lasted 10 days, during which more than a dozen witnesses were called. Neither Paxton nor Paul testified.
If convicted, Paxton would have been removed from his elected post and could have been disqualified from holding future office. Only the third official in Texas to face such impeachment proceedings, he is the first to beat all the charges at trial.
The leaders of the House board of managers, a bipartisan group of representatives who spearheaded the impeachment, held a press conference after the verdict in which they stood by the case they presented.
“It demonstrates considerable, uncontested, uncontroverted evidence of Mr. Paxton’s corruption,” Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, said. “Regardless of the results, I am proud to have defended the interests of our fellow Texans and to have stood up for integrity and propriety and public service.”
Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, called Paxton “the most corrupt politician” in Texas who Senate Republicans reinstated as the state’s top cop. She lamented, “God help us.”
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, publicly commented on the trial for the first time as he congratulated the attorney general on Saturday.
“Attorney General Paxton has done an outstanding job representing Texas, especially pushing back against the Biden Administration,” he said in the statement. “I look forward to continuing to work with him to secure the border and protect Texas from federal overreach.
The verdict quickly erupted into a political volcano in the Capitol, widening the rift between House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who leads the Senate. It also further exposed fissures within the Republican Party of Texas.
Patrick, who presided over the impeachment trial, scolded the House for what he described as a rushed process when they voted for the impeachment in May.
During closing remarks after Saturday’s vote, he called for a full audit of money spent on the proceedings. He said the Texas Constitution should be amended to avoid this in future.
“The speaker and his team rammed through the first impeachment of a statewide official in Texas in over 100 years while paying no attention to the precedent that the House set in every other impeachment before,” Patrick said, referring to the 1917 impeachment of Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson.
In a statement, Phelan accused Patrick of “confessing his bias” in a “tirade” that “disrespects the Constitutional impeachment process afforded to us by the founders of this great state.”
“The inescapable conclusion is that today’s outcome appears to have been orchestrated from the start, cheating the people of Texas of justice,” Phelan said.
Senators speak about impeachment vote
Voting on the verdict, which took place in the Texas Senate chamber, lasted just more than an hour and a half. Sens. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Robert Nichols of Jacksonville were the only Republicans to cross party lines and vote for conviction.
Democrats voted to convict on the vast majority of the impeachment articles. All but two voted to acquit on one article, which accused Paxton of funneling private information to Paul.
The light mist visible blanketing the Capitol grounds grew into a downpour, thunder cracking, as the voting neared its end. By the time the vote was over, Paxton was vindicated and the rain had stopped.
Most senators left the building quickly, eager to return home. Some stopped for brief remarks.
Hancock declined to comment on his votes to convict Paxton on a dozen of the impeachment articles.
“It’s time to go home,” Hancock said as he got in the driver’s seat of a car. “I have a new grandkid. He’s three days old.”
Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, who also voted to convict on most of the impeachment articles, called the results “a travesty.”
“The office of attorney general has been removed from the boundaries of public ethics,” he said.
Angela Paxton, who was barred from participating in her husband’s impeachment trial, said on her way out of the Capitol that she agreed with Patrick’s proposal to change impeachment rules in the state Constitution.
“I think he’s right. I think they sent something over half-baked, and it cost taxpayers a lot of money,” said Paxton, R-McKinney.
The impeachment trial
The impeachment trial centered on ex-staffers who reported Paxton to the FBI for alleged corruption. They testified in detail about how Paxton pushed them to do work they believed was directly or indirectly beneficial to Paul, the Austin real estate developer.
Many of the allegations against Paxton had been in the public sphere for more than two years.
In fall 2020, a group of his most senior employees reported their boss to authorities, saying Paxton pressured them in different ways over the course of the year to help Paul, who was under federal investigation.
The attorney general wanted the office to help Paul thwart the federal probe, the staffers reported, and to use the agency as a cudgel against the businessman’s perceived enemies.
The former deputies found Paxton’s preoccupation with Paul unusual, they testified. Some even questioned Paxton directly if Paul might be blackmailing the attorney general, testimony showed.
It came to a head in late September 2020, when they learned that an outside lawyer hired to investigate Paul’s claims of abuse at the hands of the FBI had served several grand jury subpoenas on his enemies, the employees testified.
But Paxton’s defense team argued that their testimony never showed a smoking gun. Several witnesses testified that Paxton told them he only wanted to “seek the truth” in Paul’s complaints. And House managers’ relied heavily on witness testimony from a former travel aide for evidence that Paul and Paxton entered into any quid pro quo.
The trial came to a climax on Thursday.
Laura Olson, identified as Paxton’s extramarital lover in court documents, was called to the stand and arrived at the Capitol. However, she was ruled out as a witness at the last minute.
After Paxton’s defense staved off Olson from testifying, Buzbee made a motion for a directed verdict. It momentarily stunned the chamber. Buzbee eventually withdrew the motion.
The following day, Paxton’s defense called four current employees of the attorney general’s office to the stand. They testified that many of the articles of impeachment were false, and a human resources manager said that the firings of the employees who reported him to the FBI were justified.
Their testimony was part of the defense’s narrative that the House’s case was built on the accounts of untrustworthy, insubordinate employees, and that the entire proceeding was a political conspiracy to replace Paxton with George P. Bush, who opposed the incumbent in the GOP primary for attorney general last year.
Paul, who was indicted on federal charges in June, was listed as a potential witness for House managers but wasn’t called to testify.
Effects on Future Policymaking
The verdict in Paxton’s impeachment trial threatens to throw state politics in Texas into chaos.
Already at odds after a contentious legislative session between the two chambers over issues such as school choice and property tax cuts, the Republican leaders of the House and Senate now have another dispute.
In his speech after the verdict, Patrick spent the bulk of his time criticizing the House. He said representatives should have held open hearings and questioned witnesses under oath, before impeaching Paxton. He wants rules and laws changed to reflect that.
“An impeachment should never happen again in the House like it happened this year,” he said.
Paxton underscored the rift between the House and Senate in his victory statement, calling the impeachment a “sham” that was “coordinated by the Biden Administration with liberal House Speaker Dade Phelan and his kangaroo court.”
Former president Donald Trump lifted Paxton’s victory, calling the longtime ally “one of the BEST!” and calling for Phelan’s job. Other Republicans who led the charge for Paxton’s impeachment likely will also face GOP challengers.
“It is time that Speaker Dade Phelan resign after pushing this Disgraceful Sham!” Trump said on his social media platform Truth Social.
Patrick and Phelan are expected to return to the Capitol, perhaps within weeks, to tackle another divisive issue — school choice.
Austin Bureau Chief. Robert T. Garrett contributed to this report.
This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.