AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The historic impeachment trial of suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton begins at the Texas Capitol Tuesday morning. Here is a comprehensive breakdown of what you need to know and how we got here.
How will the impeachment trial work?
When the House of Representatives voted to impeach Paxton, they adopted 20 articles of impeachment. Senators will vote on 16 of those 20 articles of impeachment when the trial begins Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the Senate chamber.
The trial will be held publicly, beginning with votes on pre-trial motions. Paxton’s attorneys have requested the Senate dismiss all of the articles of impeachment. If Lt. Governor Dan Patrick — presiding officer of the trial — decides to grant that motion, senators will vote on whether to dismiss individual articles. A majority of senators would have to agree for an individual article to be dismissed.
After votes on pre-trial motions, the trial will officially begin with opening statements. First, attorneys working on behalf of the House impeachment managers will present evidence and call witnesses who will be cross-examined by Paxton’s lawyers. The attorney general’s defense team will have the same ability to present evidence and call witnesses who are subject to cross-examination.
According to a witness list obtained by the Dallas Morning News, more than 100 witnesses are subject to appear in person at the Texas Senate at the start of the trial. Some of these witnesses include:
- Nate Paul – The Austin real estate investor and Paxton donor central to the articles of impeachment
- Laura Olson – the woman with whom Paxton is accused of having an extramarital affair
- Sen. Bryan Hughes, (R-Mineola) – Is referenced in the articles of impeachment.
What’s at stake?
Senators will vote separately on each article of impeachment. If two-thirds of the senators vote yes on an article, it will be a conviction. Votes that fall short of that threshold count as an acquittal.
If Ken Paxton is convicted on any of the 20 articles, it will lead to him being removed officially as attorney general.
If Paxton is convicted on any article of impeachment, it could trigger a second vote to permanently ban him from holding public office. Outlined in the rules for this impeachment trial, each senator will vote on if Paxton’s offenses should “extend to disqualification from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under this state.”
The last time a statewide elected official was removed from office was in 1917. Governor James “Pa” Ferguson faced impeachment after accusations of embezzlement and other charges. The Senate found him guilty, and voted to ban him from holding future office.
But his influence remained strong in Texas politics. His wife Miriam “Ma” Ferguson was elected Governor in 1924, after campaigning on the promise that she would follow the advice of her husband. She said Texans would get “two governors for the price of one.”
Ma Ferguson lost her reelection bid in 1926. But she ran again in 1932 and won another term.
Who is Ken Paxton, and what is his government role?
Ken Paxton was elected for his first four-year term as the 51st Attorney General of Texas in November 2014. Paxton was reelected for a second term in 2018, and then a third term in 2022.
Paxton, faced three high-profile challengers in the 2022 Republican primary election. Each of the challengers raised Paxton’s legal issues as part of their campaigns. Paxton advanced to a runoff election, where he defeated former Land Commissioner George P. Bush. In the November election, Paxton soundly defeated Democrat Rochelle Garza.
The Attorney General is considered the state’s top law enforcement officer. Here are some responsibilities of the Attorney General:
- Representing Texas in litigation
- Defend and enforce laws from Texas’ Constitution
- Provide legal advice when asked by Governor and other executive officers
- Approve public bond issues when deemed appropriate
What is an impeachment trial, and how did Paxton get here?
The impeachment trial is not a criminal or civil trial. Instead, it is a political process meant to determine if a government official is fit to be in office.
An impeachment trial can occur when a government official is accused of potential illegal wrongdoing. When such claims have been made, an investigation can be prompted by the General Investigating Committee of the Texas House of Representatives.
The General Investigating Committee, after investigation, will give a recommendation to impeach or not impeach the official. If recommended to do so, the Texas House of Representatives will hold a vote to impeach the official on the grounds of various outlined charges called articles.
If majority favors to impeach, the government official will be suspended for the time being and replaced by an interim official appointed by the governor. Following the suspension comes the motions to have an impeachment trial in the Senate.
Some of the key allegations facing Paxton involve Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, a campaign donor and friend. Former top aides in the Office of Attorney General accused Paxton of misusing his office to help Paul and accepting bribes. Paxton denies all accusations about his relationship with Paul, as well as all other allegations of wrongdoing in his impeachment articles.
Amidst the accusations, the five-member General Investigating Committee unanimously voted to recommend Paxton’s impeachment. Following that, the Texas House of Representatives voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton leading to the impeachment trial set in motion and Paxton being suspended.
Abbott first appointed former Secretary of State John Scott to serve as interim attorney general. Not too long after, Scott left the position, and Abbott appointed his deputy chief of staff, Angela Colmenero to take over as interim attorney general.