Recently acquitted of impeachment charges, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is back to work and back to his usual groove.
Promises to continue taking the Biden administration to court. Support from former President Donald Trump. And soon, a meeting with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
As Paxton begins his first full day back in office on Sunday after winning acquittal from the Texas Senate on corruption and bribery charges, the Republican is quickly returning to what has long helped make him the One of America’s most resilient political figures despite years of criminal charges and alleged scandal.
At the same time, the verdict fuels divisions within the Republican Party around his dismissal.
The fallout at the Texas Capitol is likely just beginning and threatens to spill over into the 2024 election when conservative allies of the Trump-backed attorney general say they will target Republican lawmakers who led the investigation against Paxton.
Even the very act of impeachment in Texas could face a second look after Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presided over the trial, called for new safeguards in a fiery speech s ‘asking how the case got to this point.
On the other side are Republicans in the Texas House, where Paxton was overwhelmingly impeached and suspended from office in May. Its members bristled at Saturday’s verdict and the criticism leveled by the lieutenant governor.
“The inescapable conclusion is that today’s outcome appears to have been orchestrated from the beginning, cheating the justice of the people of Texas,” said Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan.
Paxton, 60, was absent for most of the trial and was not present on the Senate floor for his acquittal on 16 articles of impeachment. He released a statement calling his indictment the work of a “kangaroo court” and promoted an interview he plans to give this week with Carlson.
“I have said it many times: seek the truth! And that’s what was accomplished,” Paxton said.
The trial was a showcase of sober testimony and occasional spectacle. In accusing Paxton of abusing his office, former advisers recounted how Texas’ top lawyer allegedly pressured them to help a political donor who was under investigation by the FBI.
The testimony included arguments about who paid for home renovations, whether Paxton used burner phones and how his alleged extramarital affair became a strain on the office.
Paxton has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers have argued there is no evidence or it is not enough to rise beyond a reasonable doubt. They portrayed Paxton as the victim of a plot orchestrated by Republican rivals and cited political conspiracies involving George P. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush, who unsuccessfully challenged Paxton in the Republican primary from last year.
Paxton was supported in that race by Trump, who reaffirmed his support in the final days of the trial and applauded the verdict. “Ken Paxton’s win is so BIG. WOW!!!” Trump posted on Truth Social, his social media platform.
More than three months after the landslide impeachment in the Texas House, where Republicans have a solid majority, Paxton was equally convincingly acquitted by Senate Republicans who serve alongside his wife, Sen. D ‘State Angela Paxton.
Angela Paxton was not allowed to vote during the trial. But she attended both weeks of the trial, including a dramatic moment when a woman was called to testify publicly about an affair she had with the state senator’s husband.
The woman ultimately never took the witness stand, but her relationship with Ken Paxton was at the heart of a case accusing him of making potentially criminal efforts to help a local real estate developer named Nate Paul, who was then the subject of an FBI investigation.
Democratic Sen. Nathan Johnson described nearly eight hours of deliberations among the 30 senators as a difficult and seemingly sincere process.
“And then it collapsed,” he says.
Johnson said it eventually became clear there wouldn’t be enough votes to convict, which could have caused some senators to change their minds.
“When enough people move away from their beliefs, it exposes any remaining Republican to a very strong attack from the right,” Johnson said. “We reached a bad result and it was the result of political pressure.”
The result doesn’t mean the end of Paxton’s troubles. He still faces a securities fraud trial, is still the subject of a separate FBI investigation, and risks losing his ability to practice law in Texas due to his baseless attempts to overturn the election of 2020.
Eight of Paxton’s former deputies reported him to the FBI in 2020 for his relationship with real estate developer Paul, sparking an ongoing federal investigation.
Federal prosecutors investigating Paxton testified in August before a grand jury in San Antonio, according to two people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because of secrecy rules surrounding the proceedings.
Paul was indicted in June for making false statements to banks. He pleaded not guilty.
Dan Cogdell, one of Paxton’s attorneys, said the securities fraud charges the attorney general still faces should be dismissed. “If they don’t fire them, we will judge them and beat them there, just like we beat them here,” he said.