Ken Paxton Impeachment Trial to Include Evidence, Witnesses

Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton (Photo by Jana Birchum)

It seems the trial of impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton won’t be rigged after all.

Some observers of the Texas Senate’s two-day struggle to craft rules for Paxton’s upcoming impeachment trial assumed that the protracted process meant senators were negotiating rules that would help Paxton beat the charges. The rules the senators wound up adopting late Wednesday show that is not true: Paxton will face a thorough accounting for his alleged misdeeds.

The rules set Paxton’s impeachment for Sept. 5 and bar his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, from participating in deliberations or casting a vote on her husband’s fate, though she will be allowed to be present for the proceedings. Sen. Paxton had announced that she would not recuse herself, despite criticism that she has a blatant conflict of interest in the case. She was one of three senators to vote against adoption of the rules, which passed 25-3, the others being Sen. Bob Hall and, curiously, Austin’s Sarah Eckhardt.

Generally speaking, the senators followed the recommendations of House members to create rules that will treat Paxton’s impeachment like a trial in a Texas court. There will be lawyers, the transcription of testimony, witnesses who can be placed under oath and cross-examined, and rules for the admission of evidence. The trial will be open to the public and a list of witnesses, who may be subpoenaed if necessary, will be released on Aug. 22. Paxton must appear in the Senate in person to answer the allegations against him.

Those allegations were laid out in 20 Articles of Impeachment approved by the Texas House on May 27 which charged Paxton with a years-long pattern of corruption, including illegally firing four whistleblowers who had accused him of bribery and allegedly attempting to undermine an FBI investigation. The Senate’s rules specify that they will consider 16 of the 20 articles, ignoring those dealing with claims of securities fraud dating back to 2015. The trial will instead focus on a variety of accusations connected to Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, most of which center on bribery. Paul was himself charged two weeks ago with eight felony counts of lying to financial institutions.

The rules also state that “unnecessary delays, outbursts, or side bar remarks” will not be allowed. This is significant because Paxton’s attorneys, specifically Houston attorney Tony Buzbee (a personal injury lawyer), have been very outspoken in the media in recent weeks, complaining about a “sham trial,” “kangaroo court,” and “political theatre,” and asserting that a trial could take a year. The Senate’s rules seem to warn against such grandstanding.

Paxton’s attorneys had asked that the Senate adopt a much weaker “summary procedure” for the impeachment (what some members of the House called a “sham trial”) that would permit them to consider only the articles of impeachment sent over by the House, and not the actual evidence. Had the Senate agreed to those rules, it would have been a hypocritical move for the Texas GOP – the 22 House Republicans who voted against Paxton’s impeachment said they did so because the presentation by the House’s investigating committee included only the Articles of Impeachment and not trial-level evidence and witness testimony, which they said amounted to hearsay. The request by Paxton’s attorneys for a summary procedure would have given his supporters an opening to vote against impeachment on the same grounds.

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