AUSTIN (Nexstar) — All eyes will be on the Texas Senate Tuesday, when senators embark on the first impeachment trial of a statewide elected official in more than 100 years: suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton.
At the end of May, the House voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton on a host of allegations — making false statements, obstructing justice, accepting bribes from a campaign donor and more.
Although an impeachment trial is purely political, in the sense that lawmakers are not bringing any criminal charges against Paxton, legal experts note that the process will likely mirror what happens in a criminal or civil courtroom. The House acts like a grand jury, with their vote signifying that the majority found there was enough probable cause to impeach Paxton. Now in the court of impeachment, senators will act as jurors in rendering a “verdict” — in which they will decide if there is proof beyond reasonable doubt that Paxton committed impeachable offenses and should be removed from office.
Central to many of the allegations is Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, a campaign donor and friend of Paxton. Former top aides in the Office of Attorney General accused Paxton of misusing his office to help Paul and accepting bribes. Paxton denies all accusations about his relationship with Paul, as well as all other allegations of wrongdoing in his impeachment articles.
What are the accusations in the 20 articles of impeachment?
Favors for wealthy donor
Article 1 accuses Paxton of violating his duties by harming a charitable organization to help a donor, Nate Paul, a wealthy Austin real estate developer.
The attorney general is tasked with protecting charitable organizations when they face lawsuits. The article asserts Paxton improperly intervened in litigation involving Paxton’s donor, Nate Paul, and a charity called the Mitte Foundation
“Paxton harmed the Mitte Foundation in an effort to benefit Paul,” the resolution states.
Article 2 concerns another favor lawmakers asserted Paxton did for Paul. It explains Paxton issued a legal opinion to prevent the foreclosure of some of Paul’s properties, in contradiction of his employees’ original legal opinion.
Article 3 asserts Paxton issued illegal rulings to block public information requests concerning records within the Department of Public Safety related to Paul.
Article 4 again implicates Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, asserting Paxton misused his official power to improperly obtain private information and divulge records to Paul.
“Specifically, Paxton improperly obtained access to information held by his office that had not been publicly disclosed for the purpose of providing the information to the benefit of Nate Paul,” the resolution states.
Article 5 claims Paxton improperly hired a special prosecutor to benefit Paul. Paxton hired attorney Brandon Cammack to investigate a complaint on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office and in service to Paul. The committee asserts Paxton did not have the authority to hand-pick a special prosecutor to conduct state business and Cammack was unqualified to act as a prosecutor on behalf of the attorney general.
Retaliating against whistleblowers
Article 6 accuses Paxton of taking “adverse personnel action” against top-ranking OAG employees who raised public ethical complaints against him.
“Paxton terminated employees of his office who made good faith reports of his unlawful actions to law enforcement authorities,” the resolution reads, asserting his actions were in violation of state law protecting whistleblowers.
Article 7 accuses Paxton of misusing records to conduct a “sham investigation” into the whistleblower complaints and publish a report “containing false or misleading statements in Paxton’s defense,” per the resolution.
Article 8 accuses Paxton of concealing information from the public by entering a settlement with the whistleblowers. It describes this action as a way to stall their wrongful termination lawsuit and prevent courts from discovering evidence.
“The settlement agreement stayed the wrongful termination suit and conspicuously and delayed the discovery of facts and testimony at trial, to Paxton’s advantage,” the resolution reads.
This “deprived the electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general.” Paxton was re-elected last year in the midst of his legal troubles with whistleblowers.
Bribery and extramarital affair
Article 9 accuses Paxton of accepting a bribe from donor Nate Paul. It says Paul received favorable treatment from the attorney general in exchange for Paul’s employment of a woman “with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair.”
Article 10 accuses Paxton of accepted bribery in the form of renovations to his home paid for by Nate Paul. In exchange, “Paul received favorable legal assistance from, or specialized access to, the office of the Attorney General,” read the resolution.
Obstruction of Justice
Article 11 accuses Paxton of using his influence as attorney general to obstruct legal proceedings against him.
Paxton was indicted in 2015 for federal securities fraud – two felony charges of first and third-degrees. The impeachment articles assert Paxton “concealed the facts underlying his criminal charges from voters by causing a protracted delay of the trial.” This, in effect, deprived Texas voters of making an informed decision when they chose Paxton again to be the state’s attorney general.
Article 12 accuses Paxton of further obstruction of justice. It says Paxton benefited from a lawsuit made by Jeff Blackard, one of his campaign donors. That lawsuit “disrupted payment of the prosecutors in a criminal securities fraud case against Paxton.”
The ethics committee asserted the lawsuit thwarted the trial against Paxton, delayed the discovery of evidence and, again, “deprived the electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general.”
Articles 13 and 14 accuse Paxton of making false statements in official records to mislead public officials. They assert Paxton made false statements to the State Securities Board to cover up his failure to register with them before selling stocks. Article 14 also asserts Paxton failed to disclose financial interests to the Texas Ethics Commission, which is required by law.
Article 15 asserts Paxton made false statements in a “lengthy written report” in response to whistleblower accusations to mislead public officials and the public.
Article 16 says Paxton “acted with others to conspire, or attempt to conspire, to commit acts described in one or more articles.”
Misappropriation of public resources
Article 17 says Paxton misused his official powers by causing employees to perform services for his benefit and the benefit of others — ostensibly using the time, and thus the payment, of state employees for personal favors.
Dereliction of Duty
Article 18 asserts these offenses amount to a violation of the Texas Constitution and his oaths of office, “acting contrary to the interest of the public.”
Unfitness for Office
Article 19 asserts these offenses amount to an unfitness for office.
Details of the trial
Senators will vote on 16 of the 20 articles of impeachment when the trial begins Tuesday, Sept. 5. The trial will be held publicly in the Senate chamber, beginning with votes on pre-trial motions. Paxton’s attorneys have requested the Senate dismiss all of the articles of impeachment. If Lt. Governor Dan Patrick — presider of the trial — decides to grant that motion, two-thirds of senators will have to agree on dismissal with a vote on individual articles.
Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, will sit on the court of impeachment but is barred from voting or participating in closed sessions or deliberations. Because she is still a member of the impeachment court, the voting threshold for conviction is the same.
According to the Texas Constitution, there must be a two-thirds majority of senators — 21 of the 31 — in order to convict Paxton. Members will vote on each individual article and one conviction vote will result in his removal from office. Senators may also decide to vote to bar Paxton from holding future office, which requires the same two-thirds voting threshold.
After votes on pre-trial motions, the trial will officially begin with opening statements. First, attorneys working on behalf of the House impeachment managers will present evidence and call witnesses who will be cross-examined by Paxton’s lawyers. The attorney general’s defense team will have the same ability to present evidence and call witnesses who are subject to cross-examination.
The trial will feature a star-studded legal team on both sides — with Houston criminal defense attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin prosecuting the case on behalf of the House impeachment managers, and Tony Buzbee and Dan Cogdell working as the lead defense attorneys for Paxton.
It is unclear how long the trial will last, but some senators have said publicly they anticipate it could be anywhere from four to six weeks. Each day the trial will begin at 9 a.m.