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Paxton trial updates: Senators taking key preliminary votes as proceedings begin

By Texas Tribune Staff, The Texas Tribune

Paxton trial updates: Senators taking key preliminary votes as proceedings begin” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The historic impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is underway. He faces 16 articles of impeachment that accuse him of bribery, dereliction of duty and disregard of official duty. Paxton has faced criminal investigations, legal battles and accusations of wrongdoing for years.

Still, Texas voters have twice reelected him, most recently in November. Paxton has long positioned himself as one of the country’s strongest conservative attorneys general. In more than two terms as the state’s top lawyer, he has relentlessly sued the federal government over issues from immigration to health care and the environment. Paxton’s attorneys argue that the impeachment allegations are baseless or fall under the legitimate duties of the attorney general’s office.

The trial is expected to hinge on Paxton’s relationship with a real estate investor and political donor — and could prominently feature details of an alleged extramarital affair. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will act as judge. Witnesses will testify under oath, senator-jurors will deliberate privately and votes will be conducted without public debate. The attorney general’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, will sit as part of the court, but will not vote or deliberate.

Watch Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial live

Suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial in the Texas Senate is expected to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday. You can watch the proceedings here.

Senators overwhelmingly refuse to dismiss articles of impeachment

In a 24-6 vote, Texas senators refused to dismiss all articles of impeachment against suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton. That vote clears the way for a public trial in the Senate where Paxton faces 16 articles of impeachment.

Twelve Republicans joined all Senate Democrats in the vote to essentially move forward with a trial. A simple majority is required to approve any pretrial motions, and Paxton’s team challenged all articles of impeachment both individually and altogether in a series of filings that will be voted on before the trial officially begins.

In a 22-8 vote, Senators rejected a pretrial motion to exclude all evidence before January 2023.

Senators also took individual votes to dismiss certain impeachment articles or to temporarily hold some articles in abeyance. They resoundingly rejected all motions. Six Republican senators voted yes on every motion to dismiss, while five Republican Senators voted to dismiss some of the impeachment articles. Seven Republican senators voted no on all of the motions, along with all Democratic senators.

Senators also rejected a motion from Patxon’s team to exclude evidence gathered “in violation of the law.”

-Robert Downen and Kate McGee

Robert Downen and Kate McGee

Ken Paxton arrives on Senate floor

Ken Paxton arrived on the Texas Senate floor around 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and huddled with his attorneys. It was previously unclear if Paxton would be present for his impeachment trial, and his attorneys have vowed that he will not testify.

Under Senate trial rules approved in June, the presiding officer — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — has the power to issue subpoenas compelling witnesses to attend. In one of their pretrial motions, however, Paxton’s lawyers have asked that he be carved out of that provision, arguing that Paxton is entitled to the same rights to not testify as a defendant in a criminal proceeding.

House impeachment managers have opposed that motion, and have said that Paxton still has the right to plead the Fifth Amendment.

Robert Downen

Angela Paxton salutes supporters in Senate gallery

Attorney General Ken Paxton‘s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, made an appearance on the Texas Senate floor shortly before his impeachment trial began Tuesday morning.

The McKinney Republican waved to people who called out her name from the gallery above the chamber floor. She also saluted another group of supporters in the gallery.

State Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, waves to the gallery from the floor of the Senate on Sept. 5, 2023.
State Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, waves to the gallery from the floor of the Senate on Sept. 5, 2023. Credit: Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Under impeachment trial rules, Angela Paxton can attend the proceedings but cannot vote or participate in deliberations. She voted against those rules. Much of the proceedings could center on her husband’s alleged extramarital affair.

Her appearance on the Senate floor came as the other senators were apparently meeting to get ready for the 9 a.m. start.

— Patrick Svitek

[Who’s who in the Ken Paxton impeachment trial, from key participants to potential witnesses]

Sam Houston Bible used to swear in trial participants

Ken Paxton’s impeachment trail began with a prayer from Sen. Phil King, R-Weatherford, who asked for guidance and direction for all those involved in the proceedings.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht swore in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Lana Meyers, a former state appellate judge who is serving as legal counsel for Patrick, on the Sam Houston Bible.

Legend claims that the Bible, bound in brown sheepskin, was owned by Sam Houston and gifted to the Texas Supreme Court. It has been previously used during state inaugurations and other important occasions.

“This is a significant and serious occasion that will be in the history books and I thought it was appropriate to bring out the Sam Houston Bible not just for myself but each member of the Senate, the jurors,” Patrick said.

Patrick proceeded to individually swear in each member of the Senate using the same Bible, who have repeated the following oath:

“I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will impartially try Warren Kenneth Paxton, Jr., Attorney General of Texas, upon the impeachment charges submitted to me by the House of Representatives and a true verdict render according to the law, and the evidence, so help me God.”

Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, was not sworn in. While she is a sitting member of the jury, she cannot vote in the impeachment trial or participate in private deliberations.

Kate McGee

Donald Trump Jr. says Paxton will “survive” impeachment trial

Donald Trump Jr. has weighed in on the impeachment trial, saying Paxton will “survive” and continue to “combat the Swamp.”

“I’m looking forward to the upcoming 2024 primary season. RINO hunting season starts soon!!!” Trump Jr. wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Paxton is a longtime ally of the Trump family, though former President Donald Trump has remained mostly silent about Paxton’s impeachment since May, when he decried it as an attack on “American Patriots.” Paxton tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in four states where President Joe Biden had won the election.

Paxton’s supporters have sought to frame the impeachment as an attack on conservative values by Republicans In Name Only — RINOs — who they claim are working with Democrats in the Texas House. At a rare public appearance on Saturday, Paxton, blasted the lower chamber that impeached him and name-checked its leader, Speaker Dade Phelan.

Robert Downen

The attorney general faces 16 articles of impeachment

The Texas House voted overwhelmingly to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton in May. The chamber, held by a Republican majority, adopted 20 articles of impeachment. The Senate, which is also controlled by the GOP, will hear evidence on 16 articles. The other four articles were put on hold.

The 16 articles accuse Paxton of bribery, dereliction of duty and disregard of official duty. Nearly 4,000 pages of evidence provide granular detail of how Paxton allegedly misused his office to help his friend Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and campaign donor, who was being investigated by federal authorities as his businesses were floundering. Read more about the 16 articles of impeachment.

Chuck Lindell and James Barragán

Here’s how the impeachment trial will operate

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will act as judge. Senators will serve as jurors. The trial will begin with the court clerk reading aloud 16 articles of impeachment. Paxton has been ordered to appear in person. He or his lawyer will plead guilty or not guilty to each article. Some witnesses have also been ordered to appear outside the Senate chamber at 11 a.m.

Any motion to dismiss an article of impeachment must be approved by a majority of senators, or at least 16 members. Patrick can rule on any other motion, or he can ask senators to vote on a motion without debate or discussion. Permanently removing Paxton requires support from 21 of 31 senators. His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, will not vote.

The House impeachment managers will offer an opening statement first. Paxton’s lawyers can make a statement immediately afterward or wait until they begin presenting evidence. Each side has a total of 24 hours to present witnesses and evidence and cross-examine the opposition’s witnesses. After both sides present their evidence, each side will have one hour to present rebuttal evidence. Witnesses will testify under oath. Read more about how the trial will work.

— Yuriko Schumacher and James Barragán

Paxton’s alleged extramarital affair could play key role

Much of the trial is expected to center on Ken Paxton’s alleged infidelity. Sordid details about his life could be publicly aired during the proceedings. House impeachment managers argue that Paxton was driven by his desire to continue and conceal the tryst and went to great lengths to hide the affair from his wife — and from the deeply religious voters who have sustained his political life for two decades. His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, will sit as part of the impeachment trial court, but will not vote or deliberate.

Robert Downen and Zach Despart

A political donor is at the center of many accusations

Ken Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, a political donor to the suspended attorney general, is expected to be a central focus of the impeachment trial. Paxton is accused of misusing his office to help Paul in return for free home renovations and the investor’s help covering up the attorney general’s extramarital affair. Earlier this year, Paul was charged with eight felony counts of making false statements to financial institutions.

The House impeachment managers allege Paxton hired a lawyer to carry out Paul’s bidding — allowing him to use the attorney general’s office as his “concierge law firm,” and harness its investigative powers to harass business rivals and other perceived enemies.

Zach Despart

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