The historic impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton began on September 5, promising to become a high-voltage event in the Republican stronghold. In the first trial of its kind in over a century, a top state official is being prosecuted in a public corruption that could get spicy when it exposes the alleged misdeeds of Paxton, a 60-year-old ultra-conservative Christian who opposes abortion and supports gun ownership. The charges against him include corruption, obstruction of justice, and influence peddling. If convicted, Paxton will face heavy penalties and lose the position he was elected to in 2015.
Texas legislators in Austin will be considering 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton. These allegations claim that he showed favoritism to a prominent businessman who donated $25,000 to his campaign in 2018. Paxton has been suspended from his duties since May. If 21 of the 31 senators (19 Republicans and 12 Democrats) find him guilty, he will permanently lose his position. Paxton’s wife, Angela, is a state senator and will be able to attend the proceedings, but will not have the right to vote or participate in closed-door deliberations.
Paxton entered a plea of not guilty to charges brought against him by a special committee of the Texas House of Representatives. His defense aims to fight the charges by highlighting the lack of evidence of misconduct by the state prosecutor, a well-known politician with a long career as a congressman and senator from Texas between 2003 and 2015.
Despite the Republican majority in the upper house, senators rejected attempts to derail the impeachment process. In 16 swift voting rounds, Paxton only secured the backing of ten conservative party lawmakers. Donald Trump Jr., son of former President Trump, who has faced two impeachment trials of his own, tweeted his support for Paxton, a die-hard Trumpist. “Ken will survive and will continue to combat the Swamp in Texas to put America First.”
The senators are clearly ready to hear testimony from witnesses for both sides over the next two weeks, and will wade through 4,000-page investigation compiled by a special committee. In May, the impeachment garnered widespread support in the House of Representatives, with 121 legislators voting to proceed and only 23 against. Dan Patrick, the Republican lieutenant governor of Texas, will preside over the trial. Twelve trial managers have been appointed, including seven Republicans and five Democrats – all but one are lawyers.
The charges against Paxton revolve around businessman Nate Paul, a real estate developer based in Austin, the Texas state capital . Eight state attorneys working under Paxton, protected by a law that encourages exposing government corruption, went to the FBI to file a lawsuit against their boss. Nate Paul was arrested on June 8.
According to the prosecution, Paxton unlawfully aided Nate Paul in federal investigations by appointing an inexperienced attorney, Brandon Cammack, as a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of fraud against Paul for obtaining $170 million in bank loans using falsified information. Cammack allegedly gave Paul emails, phone records and documents from his rivals in advance of the legal proceedings.
In exchange, the impeachment articles claim Paul covered renovation expenses for Paxton’s Austin home in 2020 (Paxton had purchased the property in 2018 for $1 million). He also received a $25,000 donation from the businessman for his re-election campaign that same year. Paxton was elected in 2015, succeeding Greg Abbott, the current governor of Texas. “His strong interest in anything related to Nate Paul was quite obvious, which surprised me,” said James Brickman, one of the state attorneys who went to the FBI to inform on his boss.
A job for the mistress
The charges against Paxton also have a personal angle. Allegedly, Paul found a job for Laura Olson, a woman with whom Paxton was having an extramarital affair. The impeachment administrators allege that Paxton engaged in various irregularities to conceal the affair, aiming to protect a political career founded on a voting base of ultra-conservative Christians. In June 2022, Paul gave Olson a job at his real estate agency. Olson had previously worked for Republican state senator Donna Campbell. Paul admitted in court that he hired Olson based on Paxton’s recommendation and paid her a $65,000 salary. Olson relocated to Austin for the new job, which prosecutors believe was an arrangement for Paxton to be closer to his mistress.
According to local media reports, Paxton allegedly admitted the affair in 2018 to a small group of work colleagues in the presence of his wife. Paxton claimed to have ended the affair, but the special congressional committee believes he lied and that the relationship continued for several months. To facilitate their secret meetings, Paul’s company created a fake Uber account, and Paxton used burner phones to contact Olson, a mother of two who has gone through four divorces. All the tawdry details will play out in the impeachment trial, posing a significant challenge for one of the most influential politicians in Texas.
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