Politics

Texas Senate deliberations in AG Paxton impeachment trial spill into second day

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s political fate is in the hands of the state Senate, which will continue private deliberations in the Republican’s impeachment trial Saturday after ending Friday without taking a public vote on 16 articles of impeachment.

The state Senate began deliberating just before noon Central time Friday after House impeachment managers and the attorney general’s defense attorneys delivered their closing arguments. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick told the senators that deliberations would resume Saturday at 9 a.m. CT if the body was not prepared to publicly vote on the articles by Friday night.

“I have no idea how long the jury is going to deliberate. It could be hours; it could be days,” said Patrick, who presided over the trial.

While Patrick had ordered the body to deliberate until at least 8 p.m. CT, some members of the chamber were seen starting to leave the Capitol grounds around 7 p.m. CT. CNN has reached out to Patrick’s office for comment.

The two-week trial at the Texas State Capitol in Austin reached its end Friday when both the House impeachment managers and Paxton’s legal team were given one hour each for closing arguments. Paxton appeared on the state Senate floor for the first time since entering his not guilty pleas on the trial’s first day.

“He may claim to be one of us. But unlike the public servants here today, he has no regard for the principles of honor and integrity,” Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, the chair of the House impeachment managers, said Friday morning.

Paxton’s attorney, Tony Buzbee, meanwhile, described the House’s case as “a joke,” motivated by fractures within the Republican Party, which dominates all branches of Texas government.

“The only evidence we have in this case is they don’t like Ken Paxton,” Buzbee said.

To remove Paxton from office, 21 of the 30 senators eligible to vote – Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a state senator but cannot vote – must find the attorney general guilty of at least one of the 16 articles of impeachment, most of which stem from allegations that he abused his office to benefit friend and donor Nate Paul. Murr said Paxton had “allowed Nate Paul to infect the office.”

Patrick said reporters and members of the public would receive at least 30 minutes’ notice when senators have reached verdicts.

He instructed senators to avoid discussing the impeachment trial outside their deliberations or considering any information other than what was presented during the trial – including avoiding media coverage.

“You may not look at television. You may not look at your phone,” Patrick said.

The GOP-led House’s move to impeach Paxton followed the attorney general’s request for $3.3 million in state funds to settle a lawsuit with whistleblowers – high-ranking former staffers who said they were improperly fired after reporting his alleged wrongdoing.

A Republican former state lawmaker who was elected attorney general in 2014, Paxton has spent his entire tenure in office under the cloud of scandal. He was indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, but has not yet gone to trial.

Still, Paxton built a national reputation as a hardline conservative who challenged many of former President Barack Obama’s top initiatives in courts. He is a close ally of former President Donald Trump who fought in court to overturn the 2020 election by throwing out the electoral college votes of four swing states that President Joe Biden had won.

Paxton has been suspended from office since the House voted in May to impeach him. If he is convicted, he will be removed permanently, and the state Senate would hold a separate vote on whether to bar him from seeking office again.

Buzbee, his defense attorney, compared the impeachment of Paxton to the criminal charges facing Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

He also portrayed Paxton as a political enemy of the Bush family. Former President George W. Bush was Texas governor before his 2000 victory, and Paxton defeated George P. Bush, the former Texas land commissioner and son of Jeb Bush, in the 2022 attorney general primary.

“Let it be known, let it be clear now, the Bush era in Texas ends today,” Buzbee said. “They can go back to Maine.”

Two days earlier, Paxton had said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that he will travel to Maine next week to sit down with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson “and discuss the last two weeks in Texas politics. It should be interesting!”

Buzbee began his closing statement by describing the impeachment effort as “a political witch hunt” against Paxton “with no evidence.”

“If this can happen to him, it can happen to anyone,” he said.

“What is this case about?” Buzbee asked senators. “It’s about nothing. It’s about nothing.”

Rep. Jeff Leach, a Republican, who like Paxton, is from Collin County and one of the House impeachment managers, said he has long been close to the attorney general and considers him a political ally for whom Leach has donated and block-walked during campaigns.

“Karl Rove’s not sitting in my office right now. This is me, and me alone,” he said.

Leach said Paxton has avoided accountability in recent years, including ignoring 12 invitations to testify in front of the Leach-chaired House judiciary committee.

“The people of Texas deserve answers,” he said.

Buzbee also criticized the House for including in the impeachment articles references to Paxton’s affair with a woman who Paul hired.

“We all have sinned and fallen short,” Buzbee said. “If this impeachment is based on marital impropriety, then line up! We’d be doing a lot of impeachment in this city.”

Murr, the Junction Republican, said the House had “discovered unprecedented abuse in the Texas attorney general’s office.”

“He repeatedly demanded that his top deputies act as Nate Paul’s personal lawyers and not the state’s lawyers,” Murr said of Paxton.

“His lawyers have come in here and tried to normalize his behavior,” Murr said. “They want you to believe there was nothing wrong with Mr. Paxton ignoring his senior staff’s repeated warnings about Nate Paul.”

This headline and story have been updated with additional developments.

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