The Texas Senate voted to acquit Attorney General Ken Paxton on all 16 articles of impeachment Saturday, marking the end of a stunning saga that has divided the ruby red state’s GOP.
Paxton, a Republican, dodged removal from office amid allegations of corruption and bribery, which would have required 21 votes from a jury of 30 senators to convict on any of the articles of impeachment. The state’s highest law enforcement official was only the third office holder in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to be impeached.
The attorney general was not present when the votes were cast. Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, sat as a non-voting member of the court and did not participate in private deliberations. Paxton’s Senate trial began Sept. 5, with Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick serving as judge and the senators as jurors.
Paxton’s career has been riddled with scandal: He has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, though he has yet to stand trial.
The attorney general has closely aligned himself with former president Donald Trump, who jumped to defend him against “establishment RINOs” — “Republicans in name only” — earlier this week.
Like Trump, Paxton remains popular among the Republican base in Texas, said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist who has led campaigns for Sen. John Cornyn and Reps. Michael McCaul and Dan Crenshaw. However, Trump’s characterization of Texas senators as so-called RINOs is off-base, Steinhauser said. “The Texas Senate is actually ideologically very aligned with Paxton, so if he gets convicted, it’s not because these are the establishment people.”
Support from the GOP has begun to fray as Paxton’s position grew increasingly precarious.
Cornyn (R-Tex.), a former Texas attorney general, has called the allegations “deeply disturbing,” and Rep. Chip Roy, who worked for Paxton, has previously called for his resignation. Former Rep. Louie Gohmert wrote that pursuing Paxton is not an example of “corrupt prosecution;” and Konni Burton, a former Texas state senator who had the most conservative voting record, said she believes Paxton “abused the office.”
His impeachment followed an investigation by a Texas House committee that concluded Paxton may have committed numerous crimes and that he had abused his office to help his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer.
The GOP-controlled Texas House voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton in May, and House impeachment managers served as the prosecution in the Senate trial.