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The Texas Senate on Tuesday decisively rejected all of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s efforts to dismiss the articles of impeachment against him, moving forward with the first removal proceeding against a statewide elected official in more than a century.
The rapid-fire series of votes on 16 pretrial motions made clear that senators want to at least hear the evidence against Paxton before deciding his fate. And the vote counts provided an early gauge of how willing GOP senators may be to remove a fellow Republican from statewide office.
The pretrial motions required a majority vote, but the most support a motion to dismiss received was 10 out of 30 senators — all Republicans — and that motion sought to throw out a single article.
Had the motions to dismiss failed by a smaller margin, they might have signaled a tough road ahead for the prosecution. The Texas Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to convict Paxton and remove him from office. But by voting two-to-one against every motion to dismiss but one, the Senate signaled at least an openness to the charges against Paxton.
While the House vote to impeach Paxton was overwhelming and bipartisan, the Senate offers a different political landscape. Its Republican members are more in line with Paxton's brand of conservatism, and he has more personal connections in the chamber where he once served and his wife remains a member. Senators have been under a gag order ahead of the trial, so there was little insight into their views of the case.
Six Republican senators supported every motion in a nod of support for Paxton: Paul Bettencourt of Houston, Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Bob Hall of Edgewood, Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and Tan Parker of Flower Mound. Half of those senators — Bettencourt, Campbell and Parker — are up for reelection next year.
Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial: What to know
Paxton faces several allegations
Suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton is accused of bribery, disregarding his official duty, making false statements and abusing the public trust. Paxton allegedly misused the powers of the attorney general’s office to help his friend and donor Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor. Impeachment managers submitted nearly 4,000 pages of evidence ahead of Paxton’s trial in the Senate. Paxton pleaded not guilty.
Defense calls accusations political
Paxton’s lawyers vow to disprove the accusations and say they will present evidence showing they are based on assumptions, not facts. They and several other Paxton supporters portray the proceedings as a political witch hunt carried out by “Republicans in name only.”
Texas Senate acting as impeachment jury
Texas senators are considering 16 of 20 impeachment articles. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is acting as judge. Witnesses are testifying 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.
The political donor at the center of the case
Impeachment prosecutors allege that Paxton directed his office to conduct sham investigations into the rivals of Nate Paul, a real estate investor and political donor who was under federal investigation. Paxton is accused of improperly providing his friend with sensitive information about the FBI investigation into his businesses and improperly involving the attorney general’s office in a lawsuit between Paul and an Austin nonprofit.
Affair could play key role in impeachment
Impeachment prosecutors argue that Ken Paxton went to great lengths to conceal an alleged extramarital affair from his wife and deeply religious voters who have supported him. Nate Paul allegedly hired Paxton’s girlfriend in exchange for the attorney general using his public office to help the real estate investor’s faltering businesses.
The trial features several high-profile Texans
Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial involves a massive cast of elected officials, high-profile lawyers, whistleblowers from within his office, an indicted real estate investor and the attorney general’s former personal assistant.
Five Republicans — Brian Birdwell of Granbury, Bryan Hughes of Mineola, Charles Perry of Lubbock, Charles Schwertner of Georgetown and Kevin Sparks of Midland — voted in favor of at least one motion to dismiss.
The remaining seven Republicans voted with all 12 Democrats against each motion. Those senators were Pete Flores of Pleasanton, Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, Joan Huffman of Houston, Mayes Middleton of Galveston, Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Phil King of Weatherford and Drew Springer of Muenster.
Setting the tone, the Senate denied Paxton’s first two motions by votes of 24-6 and 22-8.
The first motion asked the Senate to throw out every article of impeachment for lack of evidence. Twelve Republicans joined all Senate Democrats in the vote to essentially move forward with a trial.
The second motion asked senators to exclude evidence from before January, when Paxton’s current four-year term began. That motion struck at the heart of one of Paxton’s main arguments — that he cannot be impeached for any actions allegedly taken before he was reelected last year. Paxton's defenders have repeatedly cited the so-called forgiveness doctrine to criticize the House impeachment as illegal.
The House impeached Paxton in May, alleging a yearslong pattern of lawbreaking and misconduct. He was immediately suspended from his job, and the Senate trial, which started at 9 a.m. Tuesday, will determine whether he is permanently removed from office.
There were two dozen pretrial motions. A simple majority was required to approve 16 of them because they sought to dismissal all or some of the articles of impeachment. The presiding officer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, was allowed to rule on the other motions unilaterally.
Notably, Patrick granted Paxton's motion that prevents the suspended attorney general from being forced to testify in the trial. The House impeachment managers had opposed the motion, arguing that if Paxton wanted to avoid self-incrimination, he could take advantage of his Fifth Amendment right from the witness stand.
As the Senate proceeds to a trial, a two-thirds vote is required to convict Paxton. That means that if all 12 Democrats vote to convict, half the remaining 18 Republican with a vote would have to join them. Paxton's wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, is disqualified from voting but allowed to attend the trial.
Trial deliberations are private, so the process of voting on the pretrial motions followed a dry routine Tuesday morning. Senators submitted their votes in writing, the Senate secretary announced each senators' votes from the front mic, reading them off in random order, and Patrick verified each vote from the dais.
The motion to dismiss that got the most support — 10 votes‚ sought to individually dismiss Article 8. That article accuses Paxton of disregarding his official duties by pursuing a taxpayer-funded settlement with former top staffers who reported concerns about his relationship with Paul to the FBI in 2020.
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