(Bloomberg) -- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted at his impeachment trial by the Republican-led state Senate, which cleared the conservative leader of all charges after the toughest test of his political career.
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Paxton was cleared on Saturday of 16 articles of impeachment he faced at the nine-day trial in Austin over allegations including bribery and abusing his office. The trial came after the Texas House, also controlled by his party, overwhelmingly voted to impeach him in May.
Conviction on any one of the counts, which required support from at least two-thirds of the chamber’s 31 senators, would have meant his removal from office. Only two of the 19 Republicans voted for conviction on any of the articles.
The acquittal secures Paxton’s place as a leading figure in the national conservative legal movement, for his litigation over issues like abortion and immigration and his support of Donald Trump — who was acquitted twice at his own impeachment trials. Like Trump, Paxton cast the proceedings as a political attack driven by RINOs, or “Republicans In Name Only.”
On social media the former president congratulated Paxton on a “great and historic Texas sized VICTORY.”
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“The truth could not be buried by mudslinging politicians or their powerful benefactors,” Paxton said in a statement after the vote. “The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle political differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt.”
A Case ‘About Nothing’
The 60-year-old attorney general’s political tenure has been marked by public scandals and criminal charges. The verdict, which comes as the GOP is seeking to take back the White House and the US Senate in the 2024 election, means Paxton will continue his eight-year reign as the state’s top law officer. He had been suspended pending the trial’s outcome.
In his closing statement Friday ahead of the vote, Paxton’s lawyer Tony Buzbee said the case was “about nothing” and hammered at the growing rift in the GOP. He told the Texas senators, who were the jurors, that thanks to Paxton, President Joe Biden’s policies “come to die in Texas.”
Read More: What to Know About Texas AG Ken Paxton’s Impeachment Trial
In an unusual move, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the Republican leader who presided over the impeachment trial as the judge, slammed the Texas House after the vote, calling for a full audit of its investigation and the cost to taxpayers.
State Representative Andrew Murr, the Republican chairman of the House committee that drafted the articles of impeachment, said he stood by the probe but had expected resistance in the Senate as members faced external pressure from Paxton supporters.
“We did our duty to bring the evidence into the sunlight,” he said.
At the heart of the allegations against Paxton was his friendship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and political donor. Paul was under state and federal investigation for separate allegations, and has since been indicted. He has pleaded not guilty.
Paxton was accused of using his office to benefit Paul, including by conducting baseless investigations into Paul’s rivals. In turn, Paul allegedly helped Paxton conceal an extramarital affair and funded renovations to the attorney general’s home.
During the trial, senators heard testimony from former employees of Paxton who described how he devoted significant agency resources to Paul’s business dealings despite the objections of top staffers.
Many of those witnesses characterized themselves as conservatives drawn to work at the AG’s office because of Paxton’s political reputation.
“I was deeply concerned that the name, authority and power of our office had been, in my view, hijacked to serve the interests of an individual against the interests of the broader public,” Ryan Bangert, Paxton’s former deputy first assistant attorney general, testified. “It was unconscionable.”
Among the ex-employees who testified were four former senior advisers in the attorney general’s office who reported Paxton to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2020 over allegations of abuse of office. An FBI probe continues. The group later sued Paxton under the state’s whistleblower laws, accusing him of retaliating against them for reporting him.
Read More: Texas AG Paxton Accused of Corruption by State Investigators
In addition to that suit, Paxton stands accused of professional misconduct by the State Bar of Texas for his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and faces possible disbarment in those proceedings. As for criminal matters, he was indicted for securities fraud within months of taking office in 2015 and the case has yet to go to trial, delayed by years of pretrial disputes.
On Saturday the senators voted to dismiss four articles of impeachment related to that case.
Paxton has denied wrongdoing in all the cases. At the impeachment trial, his lawyers argued that their client had been betrayed by his closest staffers, who refused to follow his orders and didn’t give him a chance to address their concerns before they reported him to federal law enforcement.
Katherine “Missy” Cary, Paxton’s former chief of staff, testified at the trial that the affair affected his employees. She said they were asked to make accommodations for him and field uncomfortable phone calls from his wife, state Senator Angela Paxton, about her husband’s schedule. Senator Paxton was excluded from the impeachment vote.
“I told General Paxton quite bluntly it wasn’t my business who he was sleeping with,” Cary told the chamber. “But when things bleed over into the office and into the state work, it becomes my business.”
--With assistance from Julie Fine.
(Adds details of the vote in third paragraph, Trump comment in fifth and prosecutors’ comment in second section.)
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