AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate on Saturday acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton on all articles of impeachment he faced during a nearly two-week trial, salvaging a political career admired by conservatives nationwide but mired in years of legal concerns.
Senators voted to find Paxton not guilty on every charge, mostly on a 14-16 vote.
Only two Republicans — North Texas’ Kelly Hancock and Jacksonville’s Robert Nichols — voted to convict Paxton on any of the charges. All other Republicans voted to find Paxton not guilty on every charge.
Paxton was not present in the chamber to hear his acquittal. He will be reinstated as Attorney General following the verdict. He pleaded not guilty to all 16 charges at the beginning of trial.
Senators only weighed 16 of the 20 original articles of impeachment approved by the House in late May. The Senate decided to hold them in abeyance, meaning they were not considered in this trial. The four articles held in abeyance are related to Paxton’s ongoing securities fraud indictment, which has been pending since he was first elected to office. The jury may vote toss those four articles put on hold, or otherwise will have to hold a separate trial to consider those articles if they so choose.
Closing arguments Friday
“We discovered unprecedented abuse in the Texas Attorney General’s Office by Attorney General Paxton,” House impeachment manager Andrew Murr, R-Junction, said during closing arguments Friday. “Mr. Paxton put the risk of the citizens of Texas, of the business of Texas, and the lives of law enforcement at stake. As the state’s top cop, his conduct is inexcusable.”
Paxton’s defense attorneys argued the prosecution had not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest standard of proof in a court of law.
“In any criminal trial, this case would be dismissed,” lead defense attorney Tony Buzbee said. “Some of the best lawyers in Texas couldn’t prove that these things happened beyond reasonable doubt… the evidence simply isn’t there.”
Buzbee appealed to the outside influences of Paxton’s conservative base of support and impugned other conservatives for attempting to remove Paxton from office.
“The Bush era in Texas ends today,” Buzbee said in an oblique reference to Paxton’s 2022 primary opponent George P. Bush. “This is a political witch hunt.”
The verdict comes after nearly two weeks of arguments that pitted all-star Texas lawyers against each other in a political trial unprecedented in modern times.
History of prior impeachment in Texas
There have only been two statewide officials that have been impeached in Texas History: Governor James “Pa” Ferguson and O.P. Carrillo, a district judge.
Ferguson faced impeachment in 1917 after accusations of embezzlement and other charges. He is the only governor and statewide elected official to be impeached on the state’s history books, according to the Texas State Historical Association. However, Ferguson resigned after senators voted to convict him — before he could be formally removed from office.
Carrillo became the second official to be impeached in 1976. Carrillo was removed from office for evading the payment of income taxes.