Impeached Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was acquitted on 16 impeachment articles on Saturday, thwarting an effort to remove him from office over allegations of corruption.
"Attorney General Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr. is hereby, at this moment, reinstated to office," said Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Republican president of the Senate who also presided over the trial.
While two Republican senators broke with their party to vote for conviction on some articles of impeachment, the vast majority of Paxton's party voted to acquit him following a two-week trial and a day of deliberations behind closed doors. Four impeachment articles that had been put on hold during the trial were dismissed immediately after the acquittal vote.
Paxton had been suspended without pay from his post after he was impeached in the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives in May by an overwhelming vote.
"The attorney general is excited and ready to get back to work, and that's what he's gonna do," said Paxton attorney Tony Buzbee.
Paxton rose to prominence as a top legal adversary of former President Barack Obama's administration, and later as a key ally of former President Donald Trump's administration. Lawsuits to overturn the Affordable Care Act, legal protections of young undocumented immigrants, and the results of the 2020 election made him a popular force for the right, even after he was indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015.
But Paxton's political support fractured this year when the state House impeached him over allegations of abuse of office and bribery.
While House Republicans enjoyed an element of surprise — the investigation into Paxton was largely done in secret before House leaders went public and quickly moved for a vote — the senators faced months of political pressure leading up to the trial.
In remarks following the verdict, Patrick lambasted the House for rushing Paxton's impeachment through that chamber and called for a Constitutional amendment to rework the impeachment process.
Patrick has presided over the trial as its judge and said he'd stayed mostly silent throughout the summer in order to do so, but he didn't hold back on his opinion once the verdict was cast.
"Our founders expected better. It should have never happened this year, and hopefully it doesn't again," he said of the impeachment.
In a press conference, Texas state Rep. Andrew Murr, lead prosecutor in the impeachment trial, criticized the vote, saying, "This trial painted an accurate and clear picture of an out of control attorney general who refused to listen to the desperate warnings of his conservative lawyers that he had entrusted to help run his office."
"I am proud of the case that we presented because it demonstrates considerable, uncontested, uncontroverted evidence of Mr. Paxton's corruption," he said. "We fully understood the weight of impeachment and the enormity of the pressure we would face to look away from this corruption."
In a statement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said Paxton had received a fair trial.
“The jury has spoken," he said. "Attorney General Paxton has done an outstanding job representing Texas, especially pushing back against the Biden Administration. I look forward to continuing to work with him to secure the border and protect Texas from federal overreach.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, posted a similar response on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. "This was the right outcome, consistent with the will of the voters," he said.
Paxton allies promised that Republicans who voted against the attorney general would see well-funded primary challengers, while Trump made it clear he was backing Paxton.
The articles of impeachment accused Paxton of accepting bribes from, and giving legal assistance to, campaign donor and developer Nate Paul, while disregarding his official duties to the people of Texas. He was accused of improperly firing employees who reported his actions to federal authorities, lying about his actions, misusing government funds to dispute their allegations and more.
The Senate agreed to consider evidence from 16 articles at trial, with four articles relating to his 2015 criminal indictment placed on hold.
Paxton denied wrongdoing throughout the trial, and his attorneys fiercely defended him. They insisted that Paxton had not accepted bribes and that Paul was merely an entitled, annoying individual who had not received anything of value from Paxton.
The senators-turned-jurors heard testimony from seven former senior Paxton aides detailing months of concern and alarm they felt over Paxton’s relations with Paul, and their eventual decision to take the extraordinary step of reporting their boss to the FBI.
“I went to the FBI because I believed based on my experience over the previous nine months that the attorney general had abandoned his obligation to work on behalf of the interests of the people of Texas, to serve the interest of one person, Nate Paul,” Ryan Bangert, a former top aide to Paxton, said in sworn testimony last week.