AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Senate on Friday began deliberating whether impeached Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton should be removed from office over corruption allegations that have shadowed him for years.
The deliberations began after Texas lawmakers leading the impeachment made a final appeal Friday to the jury of senators following nearly two weeks of testimony. The closing arguments were the last chance for impeachment managers to make their case that Paxton is unfit for office over allegations he abused his power to protect a political donor who was under FBI investigation.
“If we don’t keep public officials from abusing the powers of their office, then frankly no one can,” said Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, a member of the bipartisan group of impeachment managers from the Texas House.
Paxton, whose three terms in office have been marred by scandal and criminal charges, faces a defining test of political durability after an impeachment driven by his fellow Republicans that has widened party fractures in America’s biggest red state.
A verdict could arrive later Friday. If convicted, Paxton would become Texas’ first statewide official convicted on impeachment charges in more than 100 years.
In an angry and defiant rebuttal, Paxton lawyer Tony Buzbee unleashed attacks on a wide-ranging cast of figures both inside and outside the Texas Capitol, mocking a Texas Ranger who warned Paxton he was risking indictment and another accuser who cried on the witness stand.
Leaning into flaring divisions among Republicans, Buzbee portrayed the impeachment as a plot orchestrated by an old guard of GOP rivals. He singled out George P. Bush, the nephew of former President George W. Bush who challenged Paxton in the 2022 Republican primary, punctuating a blistering closing argument that questioned the integrity of FBI agents and railed against Texas’ most famous political dynasty.
“This is a political trial,” Buzbee said. “I would suggest to you it’s a political witch hunt.”
Paxton, who until Friday had attended only the first few hours of the trial, sat at the defense table and sipped from a cup.
His return did not go unnoticed.
“He hasn’t even bothered to be here for the whole trial,” Murr said. “Clearly he thinks he might get away with this.”
Sitting across the room from Paxton was his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, who was required to attend the whole trial but is barred from participating in deliberations or voting on her husband’s political fate.
The public trial has attracted few onlookers, but with a verdict in sight, the Senate gallery on Friday included three of Paxton’s former deputies who reported him to the FBI in the 2020, accusing him of breaking the law to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul. All of them testified, included the former Texas Ranger, David Maxwell.
During closing arguments, the defense focused on telling senators that there was either no evidence for the charges or that any evidence didn’t rise beyond a reasonable doubt. The House impeachment managers, by contrast, walked through specific documents and played clips of testimony by the deputies who reported Paxton to the FBI.
Paul was indicted in June on charges of making false statements to banks to obtain more than $170 million in loans. He has pleaded not guilty.
One of the impeachment articles centers on an alleged extramarital affair Paxton had with Laura Olson, who worked for Paul. It alleges that that Paul’s hiring of Olson amounted to a bribe. In a dramatic scene this week, she was called to the witness stand but ultimately never testified.
The verdict will be decided by 30 state senators, most of them Republicans. Convicting him on any of the 16 articles of impeachment requires a two-thirds-majority in the Senate, meaning if all 12 Democrats vote to convict, they would need nine Republicans to join them.
Deliberations will be done privately. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said the trial will continue through the weekend if necessary.
With time running out, Paxton on Thursday pointed to renewed support from Donald Trump, who blasted the impeachment as “shameful” in a post on his social media platform, Truth Social.
For years, Trump has fanned the flames of his supporters’ distrust of the FBI in the face of legal troubles. On Friday, Buzbee leaned into those misgivings during closing arguments that were televised and aimed at an audience beyond the senators in the room.
“Do we believe that the FBI is always on the up and up? Or can we all agree they sometimes they pick and they choose?” Buzbee said.
Like Trump, Paxton faces an array of legal troubles. He remains under federal investigation for the same allegations that gave rise to his impeachment and faces a bar disciplinary proceeding over his effort to overturn the 2020 election.
Paxton has yet to stand trial on state securities fraud charges dating to 2015. He pleaded not guilty in that case, but his lawyers have said removal from office might open the door to a plea agreement.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.
Find AP’s full coverage of the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at: https://apnews.com/hub/ken-paxton