Ken Paxton, Texas’s MAGA Attorney General, Acquitted in Impeachment Trial

The stunning dismissal underscores Texas’s hard-right GOP faction's stranglehold on the party.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021 in Dallas.Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Ken Paxton, the scandal-plagued Texas Attorney General and staunch Donald Trump ally, was found not guilty by the Texas Senate on 16 impeachment charges Saturday, bringing to a close a tense trial that exposed a growing rift within the Texas GOP.

The ultimate vote on bribery and abuse of office charges wasn’t close: the most Republican votes any article solicited in favor of conviction was two. Not a single article got a majority vote. (A two-thirds margin was required to convict.) The near-unanimous GOP support for Paxton contrasted sharply with May’s vote in the Texas House, when 70% of Republicans voted in favor of impeachment.

Royce West, a Democrat from Dallas, told The Texas Tribune that there was more Republican support for impeachment than implied by the final tally, but that several GOP senators changed their votes after it became clear that the articles didn’t have two-thirds support.

The impeachment articles centered around accusations that Paxton abused his office to help a Texas real estate investor and Paxton campaign donor who was facing many legal issues of his own.

Paxton didn’t hold back after the vote. “The sham impeachment coordinated by the Biden Administration with liberal House Speaker Dade Phelan and his kangaroo court has cost taxpayers millions of dollars, disrupted the work of the Office of Attorney General, and left a dark and permanent stain on the Texas House,” he said in a statement. “The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle political differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt.”

Paxton, who has been a legal thorn in the president's side on issues like abortion, immigration, and transgender rights, addressed the Joe Biden administration directly: “Buckle up, because your lawless policies will not go unchallenged,” he said. The attorney general will immediately return to office, ending a four-month suspension triggered by the May House vote.

Texas Lieutenant General Dan Patrick, a formerly staunch Paxton ally, was forced to preside impartially over the trial. But immediately after the vote ended, he excoriated his colleagues and called for a “full audit” of the case. “Millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this impeachment,” he argued. Phelan, the House Speaker, quickly shot back. Patrick was “confessing his bias and placing his contempt for the people’s House on full display,” Phelan said.

The trial quickly de-escalated a growing inter-party war between the Texas GOP’s more moderate old guard and hard-right faction. Saturday’s vote was undoubtedly a victory for the latter. “Ken Paxton was the flashpoint, and clearly the conservative wing of the party won,” Nick Maddux, a Republican consultant and Paxton’s chief political adviser, told The New York Times.

Before and during the trial, Texas’s MAGA Republicans put significant pressure on the party to rally behind Paxton. That included threats to primary sitting Senators who indicated support for impeachment.

Paxton quickly received congratulations from the former president on Saturday. In a Truth Social post, Trump, who faces scores of legal issues - including 91 criminal charges - called the impeachment trial an instance of “political persecution.” “We should choose our elected officials by VOTING, not by weaponizing government,” he wrote.