The stakes couldn’t be higher for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton when his impeachment trial kicks off Tuesday.
An acquittal would mean vindication. It would further burnish Paxton in the eyes of conservative voters who re-elected him to a third term last year. A conviction means he would lose his job and could be barred from holding elected office in Texas ever again.
The impeachment trial, the first such proceeding here in half a century, will take place in the Texas Capitol and will delve into broad allegations of corruption against the state’s top lawyer. State senators will serve as jurors and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as the presiding officer. Paxton and dozens of other witnesses are expected to be there on Day One.
Arguably one of the most well-known state attorneys general in the country, Paxton has called the trial a political sham and likened it to his ally Donald Trump’s legal troubles.
“[Republicans in name only] and far-left radicals have established a kangaroo court in the TX Lege to eliminate America’s most conservative Attorney General,” the pinned post on Paxton’s X account reads, before asking for a campaign donation: “Help me fight back!”
Paxton denies doing anything wrong.
No criminal penalties are associated with impeachment, and Paxton won’t automatically lose his state pension if convicted. He is suspended without pay pending the trial’s outcome.
In May, the Texas House impeached Paxton by a vote of 121-23. A majority of Republican representatives backed impeachment.
The bulk of the 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton — which include bribery, abuse of office and obstruction of justice — stem from allegations brought to light in late 2020 by Paxton’s own senior staff.
These ex-employees say the attorney general did political favors for Nate Paul, a federally indicted real estate developer and campaign donor, in exchange for a kitchen remodel and a job for a woman with whom Paxton was having an alleged affair.
The historic proceedings will likely draw hundreds of spectators. The public can attend in person if they secure a free ticket, and the trial will be livestreamed on the Senate’s website.
What could happen Tuesday?
Paxton wants the impeachment articles thrown out and the trial halted before it even starts.
His lawyers say he cannot be removed from office for alleged misdeeds that have occurred since his re-election because of the “prior election doctrine,” which they argue makes it’s illegal for an official to be removed for acts committed before their most recent election. The House managers dispute that argument.
The Senate jurors could choose to vote on Paxton’s motion to dismiss first thing Tuesday.
If they grant the request, the impeachment trial could end right then. If they choose to go forward, the Senate has several other housekeeping items to complete before proceedings officially get underway, including agreeing to trial rules and swearing in witnesses.
Some of the more than 100 potential witnesses are expected to be there on Day One. Key people on the witness lists are Paul, the man at the center of the impeachment case, and the woman with whom Paxton had the alleged affair.
Paxton or the House managers also want to hear from the whistleblowers whose lawsuit settlement led to the impeachment proceedings; government workers from multiple agencies; and a who’s who of Texas politicos, such as conservative commentator Karl Rove and Paxton’s GOP primary challengers and their backers.
It is not clear when witnesses will be called to testify.
The attorney general’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, is required to be present for the proceedings but will not be able to vote.
Will Paxton testify?
The lieutenant governor, as the presiding officer, gets to make the final call on all pre-trial motions other than those to dismiss the allegations if the Senate proceeds to a trial.
Paxton’s lawyers, for example, have asked to block mention of campaign contributions or events that occurred prior to this year. They want three Democrat senators removed as jurors, citing alleged anti-Paxton bias, and also don’t want the attorney general to be forced to testify.
Paxton has argued this is a criminal trial that affords him certain rights as a defendant. Patrick has already publicly stated that the impeachment proceedings are neither civil nor criminal, but uniquely political.
Experts note that jurors in an impeachment trial, for example, can vote to remove an official from office even if they don’t think the person committed a crime.
The House managers, a bipartisan group of 12 lawmakers making the case against Paxton, want him to take the witness stand even if he chooses to exercise his right not to answer any questions.
Rep. Andrew Murr, who leads the group, said days after the House impeachment vote that the public should understand the “seriousness and the magnitude of Mr. Paxton’s abuses of power.”
“The facts in this case are overwhelming and conclusive,” Murr, R-Junction, said June 1.
North Texas Republican Reps. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, Jeff Leach of Allen, Morgan Meyer of Dallas and David Spiller of Jacksboro are among the House managers.
They have hired private lawyers, who will be paid with taxpayer money, to prosecute the case. Paxton has not said how he is paying his legal team, which includes six state employees who’ve taken leave from the attorney general’s office to defend him. He says no taxpayer money is being used.
How long will Paxton’s impeachment trial last?
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks.
Nearly 4,000 pages of documents detailing Uber trips under alleged assumed names, financial records, text messages and more were filed by House lawyers ahead of the trial.
Each side will get 60 minutes for opening arguments and 24 hours to present evidence, according to Senate rules. The parties can cross-examine witnesses, and evidence rebuttal and final argument is limited to 120 total minutes.
If Paxton is convicted of any of the impeachment articles, each side gets 15 minutes to present their case on whether he should be disqualified from holding future office. A conviction requires a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate.