Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was fully acquitted on Saturday of corruption charges in a historic impeachment trial, a resounding verdict that reaffirms the power of the Republican Party’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. And more broadly, it delivered a signature victory for the Texas Republican Party’s ascendent conservative wing following a trial that gave a rare window into divisions among Republicans nationally heading into 2024.
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 has won him conservative admirers across the US, including former President Donald Trump.
Paxton did not attend most of the trial and was not in the 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. “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 Senator Angela Paxton.
Angela Paxton was not allowed a vote in the trial. But she attended all two weeks of the proceedings, including one dramatic moment when a woman was called to publicly testify about an affair she had with Ken Paxton.
The woman ultimately never took the witness stand, but her relationship with Paxton was central to a case that accused Texas’ top lawyer of going to potentially criminal lengths to help a local real estate developer named Nate Paul, who was under FBI investigation at the time.
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 Republican senators to cross party lines, impeachment managers never got more than two on any one charge.
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.
When the voting finally finished, Angela Paxton walked over to the defence table and hugged her husband’s lawyers.
Democratic state Senator Nathan Johnson described nearly eight hours of deliberations among the 30 senators as a hard and seemingly sincere process. “And then it collapsed,” he said.
Johnson said it eventually became clear there would not be enough votes to convict and that it 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.”
Another Democrat, Senator Royce West, said the deliberations were not combative. “It was fluid,” he said.
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.
Eight of Paxton’s former deputies reported him to the FBI in 2020 over his relationship with real estate developer Paul, setting off a federal investigation that remains 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 the condition of anonymity because of secrecy rules around the proceeding.
Paul was indicted in June on charges of making false statements to banks. He has 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.
But reelected twice, including last November, Paxton has remained politically resilient despite the legal troubles and dysfunction in his office.
After starting his career in the state legislature as a Tea Party insurgent, Paxton has elevated his national profile by rushing his office into polarising courtroom battles across the US, winning acclaim from Trump and the Republican Party’s hard right.
Shortly after the verdict, Republican Governor Greg Abbott welcomed Paxton back to work without reservations.
“Attorney General Paxton has done an outstanding job representing Texas, especially pushing back against the Biden Administration,” Abbott said.
“I look forward to continuing to work with him to secure the border and protect Texas from federal overreach.”
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