Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial began Tuesday in the state Senate on 16 articles of impeachment relating to allegations of bribery, dereliction of duty and disregard of official duty.
He pleaded not guilty to all 16 counts on Tuesday morning. Paxton did not attend the afternoon session, which included the opening statements from both sides and testimony from the first witness, his former top aide Jeff Mateer. Mateer resigned in Oct. 2020 before publicly accusing Paxton of committing bribery, abuse of office and other crimes.
The GOP-controlled Texas Senate on Tuesday morning rejected all of Paxton’s motions to dismiss, although Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the trial, ruled he could not be compelled to testify.
Republicans hold a 19-12 majority in the state Senate, although Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, is not allowed to vote. She is sitting for the trial, however, but will not be serving as a juror.
Paxton has been suspended from office since May, when he was impeached by the GOP-controlled Texas House of Representatives. If he is acquitted on all the counts against him, he will be reinstated.
If he is convicted by two-thirds of the Senate on any one of the 16 counts against him, he will be removed from office and could be barred from running for office again.
What is he accused of?
Ken Paxton has long faced questions about his relationship with real estate developer Nate Paul, who donated to Paxton’s campaign. Paul has since been indicted in an unrelated case.
Several aides in Paxton’s office came forward in 2020 alleging that Paxton influenced employees to get involved in legal disputes that would benefit Paul and his business. In return, they alleged, Paul provided extensive home renovations for Paxton — and also employed a woman with whom Paxton was allegedly having an affair.
The second motion asked senators to exclude evidence from before January, when Paxton’s current four-year term began. That motion struck at the heart of one of Paxton’s main arguments — that he cannot be impeached for any actions allegedly taken before he was reelected last year. Paxton’s defenders have repeatedly cited the so-called forgiveness doctrine to criticize the House impeachment as illegal.
The House impeached Paxton in May, alleging a yearslong pattern of lawbreaking and misconduct. He was immediately suspended from his job, and the Senate trial, which started at 9 a.m. Tuesday, will determine whether he is permanently removed from office.
There were two dozen pretrial motions. A simple majority was required to approve 16 of them because they sought to dismissal all or some of the articles of impeachment. The presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, was allowed to rule on the other motions unilaterally.
Notably, Patrick granted Paxton’s motion that prevents the suspended attorney general from being forced to testify in the trial. The House impeachment managers had opposed the motion, arguing that if Paxton wanted to avoid self-incrimination, he could take advantage of his Fifth Amendment right from the witness stand.
As the Senate proceeds to a trial, a two-thirds vote is required to convict Paxton. That means that if all 12 Democrats vote to convict, half the remaining 18 Republican with a vote would have to join them. Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, is disqualified from voting but allowed to attend the trial.
Trial deliberations are private, so the process of voting on the pretrial motions followed a dry routine Tuesday morning. Senators submitted their votes in writing, the Senate secretary announced each senators’ votes from the front mic, reading them off in random order, and Patrick verified each vote from the dais.
The motion to dismiss that got the most support — 10 votes‚ sought to individually dismiss Article 8. That article accuses Paxton of disregarding his official duties by pursuing a taxpayer-funded settlement with former top staffers who reported concerns about his relationship with Paul to the FBI in 2020.
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