AUSTIN, Texas—The Texas Senate chamber was turned into a courtroom for the historic impeachment trial of state Attorney General Ken Paxton, which kicked off Tuesday morning at the state Capitol in Austin, Texas.
After the swearing-in of the 30 senators who will decide whether or not to remove Mr. Paxton from office, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick began ticking off the pretrial motions before hearing opening statements.
Mr. Paxton was impeached on 20 articles in late May by the GOP-led House of Representatives in a vote of 121–23. He is only the third sitting official to be impeached in the state’s nearly 200-year history. The last impeachment case was more than a century ago.
The articles of impeachment include allegations of abuse of power and bribery, among others. Mr. Paxton and his lawyers have maintained that all of the accusations are false.
The suspended attorney general is known as one of the most conservative lawmakers in the state of Texas. He has filed more than two dozen lawsuits against the Biden administration since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
Dozens of Paxton supporters wearing red shirts showed up to witness the proceedings.
The first half of the day was spent handling dozens of pretrial motions to dismiss the articles of impeachment, exclude certain evidence, and other matters as filed by Mr. Paxton’s legal team—all were denied.
A simple majority, 16 of the 30 voting members, was needed to approve each of the motions. The most support Mr. Paxton received was 10 votes of 30 to dismiss one article. Many of the motions only garnered six to eight votes in Mr. Paxton’s favor.
Mr. Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, watched from her Senate seat as the proceedings against her husband began. She is barred from voting or participating in the trial, according to the rules approved earlier this summer.
Of the Senate Republicans, only six voted in support of Paxton to dismiss every article. They were Sens. Paul Bettencourt, Donna Campbell, Brandon Creighton, Bob Hall, Lois Kolkhorst, and Tan Parker.
Five other Republicans voted to dismiss at least one of the motions: Sens. Bryan Hughes, Charles Perry, Charles Schwertner, and Kevin Sparks.
The remaining Republicans, Sens. Brian Birdwell, Pete Flores, Kelly Hancock, Joan Huffman, Mayes Middleton, Robert Nichols, and Drew Springer, voted against every motion alongside the 12 Senate Democrats.
In a summary judgment, Mr. Paxton’s attorneys argued that all of the impeachment articles lacked supporting evidence and, therefore, should be dismissed.
The senators denied the first motion to dismiss all 20 articles in a vote of 24–6.
In a win for Mr. Paxton, he was granted a request to preclude him from testifying, citing a defendent’s right not to be called as a witness in a criminal trial.
“The attorney general cannot be compelled to testify,” Mr. Patrick stated, adding that the decision is “consistent with the reasoning and judgment” of the United States Supreme Court.
Mr. Patrick also laid out the timing for the trial. Each side will be allowed one hour for opening and closing statements and 24 hours for each side to present evidence, questioning, and cross-examination of witnesses. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
House Impeachment Managers’ Opening Statements
House Rep. Andrew Murr presented the opening statements for House impeachment managers who say Mr. Paxton should be removed from office despite being re-elected to a third term in November.
House impeachment managers have accused Mr. Paxton of using his position to protect real estate investor Nate Paul, who they claim had the “keys” to the attorney general’s office.
They allege Mr. Paul helped Mr. Paxton cover up an extramarital affair and paid for a home renovation in exchange for the attorney general’s legal help.
“Voters did not know the whole truth.” Mr. Murr said. “Mr. Paxton went to great lengths to his misconduct from the public.”
Mr. Murr spent less than 20 minutes citing impeachable actions that included accusations that Mr. Paxton used burner phones, “ditched” his security detail, and set up secret email addresses to cover up his alleged misconduct.
He claims the evidence will show Mr. Paxton’s “slow creep of corruption,” adding that the attorney general’s conduct does not have to be proven criminal for him to be removed from office.
“We don’t have to show some type of quid pro quo to establish that his conduct warrants impeachment,” Mr. Murr said. “Wrongs justifying impeachment don’t have to be crimes. Wrongs justifying the impeachment are broader than that because they have the purpose of protecting the state, not punishing the offender.”
Opening Statements for Paxton
High-profile Houston attorney Tony Buzbee called the entire case a “whole lot of nothing” supported by no evidence.
Mr. Buzbee and defense attorney Dan Cogdell used nearly their full hour pushing back against the accusations they say will be disproven beyond a reasonable doubt.
They accused the media of fueling the falsehoods against their client and said the gag order issued by Mr. Patrick prevented them from responding to the “manufactured lies” leveled against their client.
Now, the House wants 30 people to decide whether Mr. Paxton is allowed to serve his office despite the more than 4.2 million who re-elected him less than a year ago. Mr. Buzbee said.
Mr. Buzbee pointed out the speedy impeachment process that occurred four days after Mr. Paxton called for House Speaker Dade Phelan’s resignation over accusations of drunkenness while presiding on the floor.
The lawyer also pushed back against accusations that Mr. Paul gave a job to the woman Mr. Paxton allegedly was having an affair with, adding that they would present the woman’s job application, employee contract, and paystubs to disprove the allegations of bribery. He said the woman was hired to do real work and that she is still employed in that position.
“You’re going to see her face,” Mr. Buzbee said. “You’re going to hear about the work that she did. And you’re also going to hear that she continues to do that work today. She’s doing real work.”
He said the accusations of burner phones, secret email addresses, and other actions are false.
Mr. Buzbee said his team will present evidence that the Paxtons paid for the repairs to their home after it sustained water damage. He said the chatter of $20,000 granite countertops is completely untrue, adding that the home still has “ratty” countertops after the couple shopped for new countertops but ultimately decided against them due to costs.
House impeachment managers also accused the attorney general of hiring Brandon Cammack, a Houston lawyer, to investigate Mr. Paul’s “baseless complaint” that his home and businesses were improperly searched by federal officials. Mr. Buzbee said Mr. Paxton was within his rights to hire the outside lawyer.
After wrapping up the opening statements, House impeachment managers called their first witness, Jeff Mateer. Mr. Mateer was second-in-command in Mr. Paxton’s office prior to his resignation in 2020, following his meeting with the FBI regarding the relationship between Mr. Paxton and Mr. Paul.
The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.