The embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is about to embark the toughest fight of his career, as state senators consider whether to take the unprecedented step of ousting their top law-enforcement officer over corruption charges.
(Bloomberg) — The embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is about to embark the toughest fight of his career, as state senators consider whether to take the unprecedented step of ousting their top law-enforcement officer over corruption charges.
Details of several scandals involving the Republican attorney general will be aired publicly in the impeachment trial starting Tuesday in Austin. Members of the GOP-led legislature are targeting one of their own. Paxton became a national figure by aligning with former President Donald Trump and doggedly pursuing far-right legal fights over guns, abortion and the border.
Should senators vote to remove Paxton from office, Republican Governor Greg Abbott could appoint a temporary replacement to serve as attorney general.
Here’s what you need to know about the trial:
The attorney general has been suspended from office since June, when the Republican-led Texas House voted overwhelmingly for impeachment. The case now goes to a trial in the Senate, where lawmakers will hear testimony from both sides. It may be weeks before they decide whether to permanently remove him.
Paxton, who assumed office in 2015, denies the allegations of wrongdoing and says the impeachment effort is a political sham orchestrated by his opponents.
The 20 articles of impeachment include charges of bribery, obstruction of justice and other offenses, though four related to alleged securities fraud won’t be decided because they’ve been set aside for now. Most of the rest involve Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, a real estate developer and political donor. The attorney general is accused of using his office to help Paul, who is facing his own legal woes. Paul allegedly helped Paxton conceal an extramarital affair and funded renovations to one of his homes.
Paxton also faces separate criminal and civil litigation. The attorney general was indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015 but has yet to stand trial. A group of former employees sued him under state whistleblower laws, arguing that he retaliated against them after they reported him to federal authorities. The federal investigation is ongoing.
Senators — 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats — will serve as the impeachment jury, while Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick will direct the proceedings. Many are former colleagues of Paxton, who was in the Senate from 2013 to 2015. Like a court trial, there will be opening and closing statements, and witnesses will be called to testify. Prominent attorneys from across the state are on both sides, presenting the case for impeachment and for Paxton’s defense.
To remove the attorney general from office, 21 senators representing two thirds of the chamber will have to vote for conviction. To dismiss the charges, a simple majority of 16 is required. One senator won’t be allowed to vote — Angela Paxton, the attorney general’s wife — but she’ll be present during the trial.
The litany of criminal and ethical allegations against Paxton were widely known when he was reelected last year to a third term. His lawyers have argued that lawmakers shouldn’t try to unwind the will of Texas voters.
A recent poll from the University of Texas Politics Project shows only 28% of Republican voters agreed that the charges were warranted. While his approval rating is the lowest in two years at 27% among state residents, it’s 46% among Republicans.
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