AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Billionaires, burner phones, suspected bribery: The impeachment trial against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will test the will of Republican senators to overthrow not only one of their senators, but also an arsonist who for years helped fuel the state’s harsh rightward shift.
The Historical procedure The election, due to begin Tuesday in the state Senate, is the biggest threat yet for one of Texas’ most powerful figures after a nine-year stalemate through criminal chargesscandal and allegations of corruption. If convicted, Paxton — only the third officer in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to face impeachment — could be impeached.
Witnesses called to testify may include Paxton and a woman he allegedly had a relationship with an extramarital affair. Members of the public wishing to view from the gallery must queue to obtain tickets. And conservative activists have already bought up TV airtime and billboards, pressuring senators to acquit one of former President Donald Trump’s greatest defenders.
“It’s a very serious event, but it’s a big show,” said Bill Miller, a longtime Austin lobbyist and a friend of Paxton’s. “However you take it, it’s going to get everyone’s and everyone’s attention.”
The preparation for the process has increased divisions among Texas Republicans that reflect the larger divisions rocking the party nationwide as it heads into the 2024 election.
At the forefront of recent Texas politics are tough measures to stop migrants at the US-Mexico border, disputes over public school instruction, etc Restrictions on LGBTQ+ Rights — many of which are endorsed loudest in the Senate, where Republicans hold a dominant 19-12 majority and have the fate of Paxton in their hands.
The Senate has long been a welcoming place for Paxton. His wife Angela is a Senator, although she is excluded from voting in process. Paxton was also a state senator before becoming attorney general in 2015 and still has involvements in the chamber, including with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who will oversee the trial and has loaned $125,000 to Paxton’s reelection campaign.
If all 12 Democrats voted to convict Paxton, they would still need at least nine Republicans on their side. Or the Senate could vote for it with a simple majority dismiss the charge entirely. It was a Republican-dominated House of Representatives that overwhelmingly decided that Paxton should be impeached.
“You’re seeing a split within the party right now,” said Matt Langston, a Republican policy adviser in Texas. “That will influence the leadership and the party for a long time to come.”
The trial also appears to have increased Paxton’s legal risks. The case against him mainly revolves around his relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer charged this summer after he was accused of providing false information to banks to secure $170 million in loans.
Last month, federal prosecutors in Washington kick-started a long-running investigation into Paxton when they began assigning a San Antonio grand jury to investigate his dealings with Paul, according to two people familiar with the matter, who are on condition spoke anonymity due to the secrecy rules for grand jury proceedings. The role of the grand jury was first reported on by the Austin American Stateman.
Chris Toth, former executive director of the National Association of Attorneys General, said Paxton has weathered scandals for years that are unique among leading prosecutors. He said the outcome of the trial will send a message about what is acceptable for elected officials across the country.
Impeachment executives at the Republican-controlled Texas House filed nearly 4,000 pages of evidence ahead of the trial, including allegations that Paxton concealed the use multiple cell phones and enjoyed in other perks of the office.
“Ken Paxton exerts a very despicable and insidious influence by continuing to get away with his behavior,” Toth said.
Part of Paxton’s political consistency is his allegiance with Trump, and this was never more evident than when Paxton joined efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Like Trump, Paxton says he’s the victim of a politically motivated investigation.
But James Dickey, a former leader of the Texas Republican Party, said the GOP’s grassroots view of Paxton’s impeachment as something other than the legal troubles Trump is facing.
“Actions against President Trump come exclusively from the elected officials of the Democrats, and so it cannot help but adopt a rather partisan tone,” he said. “That’s why Republican voters are more concerned and frustrated about this.”
In a rare television interview last month, Patrick made it clear what the process is and isn’t.
“It’s not a criminal case. It’s not a civil process,” he said Houston TV station KRIV. “It’s a political process.”
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.