Texas AG Paxton’s political life on line as Senate begins impeachment deliberations

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) -The Texas Senate began deliberations in the impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday following eight days of testimony from whistle blowers alleging corruption and defenders saying he did nothing wrong.

Paxton, a conservative Republican firebrand who is strongly aligned with former U.S. President Donald Trump, returned to the Senate chamber on Friday for the first time since the trial opened on Sept. 5. He faces 16 articles of impeachment in the trial, in which the Republican-dominated Texas Senate serves as the jury.

Paxton has called the trial a political witch hunt.

Paxton, who has been suspended from office pending the outcome of the trial, faces permanent ouster if at least two-thirds of the Texas Senate — which includes 19 Republicans, among them his wife, who is not allowed to vote, and 12 Democrats — agree to convict on any count. It is the first impeachment proceeding against a statewide office holder in Texas in over a century.

“We discovered unprecedented abuse in the Texas attorney general’s office by Mr. Paxton,” said Republican state Representative Andrew Murr, who opened the prosecution’s closing arguments. “As the state’s top cop, his conduct is and was inexcusable.”

Murr urged senators not to leave Paxton in office.

“He’s betrayed us and the people of Texas,” Murr said. “If he’s given the opportunity, he will continue to abuse the power given to him.”

In Paxton’s defense, lawyer Tony Buzbee ridiculed prosecution witnesses, dismissed evidence as “supposition and guesses and mights and maybes,” and said that the trial was being carried out purely for political reasons.

“There is shame here. And the shame sits right there, that they would bring this case in this chamber with no evidence,” he said. “I am proud to represent Attorney General Ken Paxton. If this can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.”

Following the closing arguments, senators began deliberating in private, and they can take as long as they wish. Their votes will be made public following their closed-door meeting, which will continue over the weekend if no decisions are made on Friday.

Paxton is accused by several former top aides of corruption and abuse of power, mostly in relation to official actions allegedly carried out to protect a wealthy political donor who was under a federal investigation and to cover up an extramarital affair.

The trial has exposed rifts in the Texas Republican Party between the social conservatives, who have held sway for the past decade and back Paxton, and the traditional conservatives, who say his actions have brought shame on the party and the state. Paxton was overwhelmingly impeached by the Republican-dominated Texas House in May.

Paxton, who faces a separate state securities fraud trial and is also under investigation by the FBI, has been dogged by corruption allegations since his first election in 2014. Still, he easily defeated traditional conservative candidate George P. Bush in a primary then Democrat Rochelle Garza in his re-election bid in November.

Paxton’s legal team has painted the former top aides who accused him of corruption as mutinous political centrists. The prosecution put a parade of the aides who became whistle blowers on the stand, each of whom detailed their conservative bona fides before testifying about what they witnessed in the attorney general’s office that led them to take their accusations to the FBI in 2020.

Paxton’s lawyers countered with current state officials who testified that the activities that raised suspicions among the whistle blowers were within his powers as attorney general.

As attorney general, Paxton backed powerful oil and gas interests and pursued restrictions on abortion and transgender rights. He has led Republican state opposition to the policies of Democratic presidents, and filed an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to overturn Trump’s 2020 election defeat.

Paxton’s impeachment was triggered by his request that House lawmakers approve a $3.3 million settlement he reached with former staff members who were fired after accusing him of abuse of office. State lawmakers did not fund the settlement.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Donna Bryson, Leslie Adler and Mark Porter)


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