AUSTIN — In Texas, the impeachment trial of popular Attorney General Ken Paxton has gotten off to its historic start. The state has never impeached an AG before, and the last time a statewide elected official was removed from office was in 1917 — more than 100 years ago.
For many in corporate media, the day of trial was a long time coming. For more than a decade, Paxton and his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, have been relentlessly pursued in the press on allegations of misconduct and impropriety.
“The End Is Near for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton,” reads a Wall Street Journal headline. “Ken Paxton’s team said there was no evidence to support impeachment. The House published nearly 4,000 pages,” crooned the Texas Tribune. The overwhelming negativity from establishment media has led many to assume the impeachment trial in the Senate would lead to the forgone conclusion: Paxton’s conviction and removal from office.
Why wouldn’t it? Especially considering how the Texas House, under the leadership of moderate Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, forced the body to vote on 20 articles of impeachment less than 72 hours after revealing that a secret investigation into Paxton had been taking place behind the scenes.
However, contrary to the prognostications of commentators and the wishes of the press corps, the first day of trial showed that Paxton has a very clear and very attainable path to victory.
In order to convict the attorney general and remove him from office, two-thirds of the Senate must agree. While Sen. Paxton will be recused from casting a ballot for or against her husband, she is permitted to remain on the floor, meaning that out of the 31 senators, Paxton needs only 10 to vote for his acquittal.
During pretrial, Paxton requested that the 20 articles be dismissed in a variety of motions. Although none reached the majority vote needed to throw anything out, the totals boded more positively for Paxton than most pundits realized.
Six members voted in Paxton’s favor on every single motion, while two more sided with him for many of the motions. This means that Paxton already has six out of his needed 10 votes, with two more being a strong likelihood.
Moreover, on several motions to dismiss particular articles, Paxton secured nine votes and even reached 10 votes in one instance. While that did not reach the threshold to dismiss the article of impeachment, 10 votes would be enough to acquit him. At the end of the day, Paxton’s team only needs to persuade two to four jurors to beat the impeachment.
After the pretrial matters were settled, the parties gave their opening statements. It became immediately clear that Paxton’s team was there to win.
His two high-powered and energetic defense attorneys, Tony Buzbee and Dan Cogdel, told the senators that many of the allegations they had heard in the press would be easily disproved. They walked through several of the articles, highlighting exculpatory information.
Buzbee specifically highlighted Paxton’s unparalleled record in advancing conservative causes in the courts and defending Texas against the Obama and Biden administrations. The opening framed the impeachment as an attempt by establishment Republicans and Democrats to oust the effective attorney general. The senators were seen to be actively taking notes and engaged in the defense’s arguments.
On the other hand, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, the chief impeachment manager and the person responsible for the investigation into Paxton, gave a short and anemic opening statement that did not seem to land well with the audience.
The next few weeks will see hours of testimony and vigorous legal arguments as Paxton fights to preserve his political career in Texas. Ultimately, however, out of the nearly 30 million people in Texas, Ken Paxton has to persuade only 10, and he is well on his way.