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Texas impeachment: Here’s why Ken Paxton was acquitted

(The Hill) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) was acquitted on 16 articles of impeachment in a Texas State Senate trial Saturday.

Paxton was impeached by the Texas State House of Representatives for alleged inappropriate favors done for donors, interference in federal investigations and retaliation against whistleblowers. The Texas state House also unveiled new evidence against Paxton last month,  including a fake Uber account he used with a real estate investor whose connections to Paxton had already been scrutinized in the earlier impeachment. 

If a conviction occurred on just one of the articles Paxton faced, he would have been ousted. After eight days of witness testimony and another day of closing arguments, jurors cast their votes on each article on the Senate floor Saturday.

Why was Ken Paxton acquitted?

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton makes a statement at his office, May 26, 2023, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

It’s not fully clear why he was acquitted, but one can look at a divide in Texas Republicans on Paxton’s guilt for some answers. A University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll released earlier this month found 24 percent of the Republicans who were asked if “Ken Paxton took actions while Attorney General that justify removing him from elected office” said he did, 32 percent said he didn’t, and 43 percent said they “didn’t know” or had “no opinion.”

In a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, the Republican Party of Texas’ official account posted a statement in support of Paxton after his impeachment by their chairman Matt Rinaldi.

“Today, after a trial in which the House could muster no evidence of a crime, the Texas senate overwhelmingly voted to acquit Attorney General Ken Paxton of all counts,” Rinaldi’s statement read.

These comments come despite the same Texas state House that voted to impeach Paxton having a Republican majority. 

The 2024 Republican party presidential nominee frontrunner, Donald Trump, has also thrown his support behind Paxton. “RINOS” (Republicans in name only) were attempting to overturn Paxton’s election last fall, he said in a Truth Social post this week.

“Texas Attorney General Paxton was easily re-elected last November, but now establishment RINOS are trying to undo that Election with a shameful impeachment of him,” Trump wrote Thursday in a Truth Social post. “Who would replace Paxton, one of the TOUGHEST & BEST Attorney Generals in the Country? Could it be a Democrat, or even worse, a RINO?” 

What were the voting results?

According to Nexstar station KXAN in Austin, Texas, none of the votes on the articles were able to meet the threshold of 21 senators in favor of convicting. The closest any vote was able to get to the threshold was 14 votes, which 12 of the articles reached.

Only two Republican senators joined Democrats to convict on some of the counts, Kelly Hancock and Robert Nichols. Paxton’s wife, a state senator herself, could not vote on the articles.

What was Paxton accused of?

This undated photo provided by the Austin Police Department shows Nate Paul, the businessman at the center of the scandal that led to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s historic impeachment. (Austin Police Department via AP)

Paxton was accused of alleged inappropriate favors done for donors, interference in federal investigations and retaliation against whistleblowers. 

Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul, a real estate developer and donor to the Texas AG, was especially scrutinized during the impeachment process. He faced allegations including illegitimate intervention in litigation by Paul and in return, Paul paid the AG back with a remodel of his house and finding a job for a Paxton affair partner who was a former staffer in his wife’s office.

What does this mean?

After being suspended from his position since his impeachment in the state House in May, Paxton will return to office. He also faces a securities fraud trial for two felony charges he was indicted on in 2015. Discussion on a trial date is suspended until October.