In 2018, when Ken Paxton was running for re-election as Texas attorney general, he was under state and federal indictment for securities fraud, and he also became known for minor malfeasance. His Democratic opponent, Justin Nelson, decided to make Paxton’s questionable moral judgment the centerpiece of his campaign. “I really just wanted to laugh at this guy and highlight the despicable venality of corruption,” Nelson told me recently. Shortly before the election, Nelson’s campaign obtained surveillance video from 2013 of the entrance to the Collin County Courthouse where Paxton lived. In the grainy video, Paxton, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, spots a Montblanc pen at a metal detector where someone had left it. Paxton stuffed the thousands-dollar pen into his pocket and walked away. (A few days later, a sheriff’s deputy contacted Paxton, who returned the pen, saying he had taken it by mistake.) The video was widely viewed; regardless, Paxton returned the favor with three points Advantage wins elections.
Paxton has long been accused of fraud, corruption and general misconduct — his state securities fraud charges date back to 2015 — but until recently, he seemed indifferent to the accusations. (He has pleaded not guilty to state charges, and a trial date has not yet been set.) In October 2020, eight of Paxton’s former employees, all senior staff in the Texas Attorney General’s Office, accused their former boss of bribery, abuse powers, and other federal and state crimes. Paxton was reelected last fall, this time by a margin of nearly ten percentage points.
Over the past six months, however, Paxton’s political standing appears to have shifted significantly. In May, the Republican-controlled Texas House voted overwhelmingly to impeach him following a secret investigation into whistleblower allegations. More than 70 percent of Republicans voted for impeachment, including every House member from Paxton’s home county. “I’m surprised — I think most people are surprised,” said James Hansen, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “To date, there is no evidence that any Republicans are willing to criticize Paxton for his conduct outside of the limited terms of a primary challenge. He has been free of all that infiltration for so long.”
For two weeks, Paxton has been on trial in the Texas Senate to determine whether he will become the third elected official ever to be removed from office in Texas. As the minority party, the Democratic Party has mostly taken a wait-and-see approach. The farce is playing out among Republicans, who include both Paxton’s accusers and his ardent supporters. Before the vote, Paxton’s supporters sought to tie his fate to that of Donald Trump. “This feels a lot like what they’re trying to do to President Trump,” said Jonathan Stickland, director of Defend Texas Freedom. PAC “Support the far-right candidate,” Steve Bannon said on the show. Paxton has denied wrongdoing, and one of his lawyers called the impeachment a “witch hunt.”
Early in the first week of the trial, I went to Austin’s red granite Capitol, which Texans like to point out is fourteen feet taller than the nation’s Capitol, to watch proceedings in the Senate chamber, a fluorescent-lit The room is surrounded by dim paintings, and the air conditioner relentlessly combats the suffocating heat outside. The case against Paxton, as prosecutors lay it out, is both tawdry and consequential, ranging from illegal Uber rides to bribes in the form of home improvements and an accusation that Paxton was “bizarre and egregious” in his focus on exploiting the state accusations of power. Help a friend, prominent real estate developer Nate Paul. At times, the proceedings were fraught with an air of uneasy intimacy. Witnesses testifying against Paxton included several of his top employees: his former chief of staff, an attorney in his office and a personal assistant who Paxton’s wife, Angela, once jokingly called the couple’s “middle son.” (One of the most anticipated witnesses, a woman with whom Paxton reportedly had an affair, ultimately did not testify.) The testimony was given to a jury that included Angela, a nonvoting state senator.
The trial was presided over by Dan Patrick, the state’s lieutenant governor and a political ally of Paxton. (Patrick, a former talk show host with no formal legal training, seemed occasionally confused by lawyer jargon.) The two attorneys leading the prosecution, Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, had never before worked together, even though they defended opposing sides. A few cases. “We didn’t kick each other in the shins or anything,” DeGuerin told me. DeGuerin and Hardin, both in their early eighties, played roles in many of Texas’ most scandalous events, from the collapse of Enron to the Waco siege. After Robert Durst confessed to killing and dismembering his Galveston neighbor, DeGuerin got him acquitted.As attorney for the estate of Anna Nicole Smith’s oil tycoon husband, Harding criticized the former playboy Playmate was so relentless during cross-examination that she exclaimed, “Fuck you, Rusty!” (Smith received nothing from the inheritance.) As prosecutors, both played loving but stern country grandfathers. Role. (DeGuerin at one point objected to the assertion by one of Paxton’s attorneys, declaring it “bullshit.”) Paxton’s lead attorney, Tony Buzbee, is a trial lawyer who was convicted in 2017 of Got into HOA trouble for parking. There’s a tank in front of his home in Houston. During the first week of the trial, the dark-skinned Buzbee accused the media of “bias” by posting a photo that made him look more orange than his actual skin tone.
The testimony was dramatic at times, and prosecutors stressed that witnesses testifying against Paxton were not motivated by partisanship. (When a man was asked how conservative he was, on a scale of one to ten, he rated himself eleven.) Part of the prosecution’s closing argument was delivered by state Rep. Jeff Leach , a Republican, described Paxton as a friend and friend. tutor. “I’ve loved Ken Paxton for a long time,” he said, before urging senators to remove Paxton from office. Paxton was acquitted of sixteen charges against him on Saturday in a largely party-line vote.
Paxton was born in North Dakota, where his father served at an Air Force base, and later attended Baylor University in Texas, where he met Angela. For much of his career, he lived in McKinney, a sprawling and rapidly growing suburb 30 miles north of Dallas, where he helped found a nearby megachurch and was involved in various questionable business dealings and served as in-house counsel to J.C. Penney. His rise to political power appears to have been based not on his outstanding personal qualities but on his alliances within the Republican Party. (When I described Paxton to Hansen as “not particularly charismatic,” he burst into laughter. “Yeah, I think that’s fair to say,” he said.) He first won the state House in 2002 election, part of a wave that gave Republicans their first legislative majority since Reconstruction and solidified their control of Texas politics. During his tenure, Paxton allied himself with increasingly reactionary evangelicals. As this group began to dominate Republican politics in Texas and nationally, Paxton “rided the wave perfectly,” Hansen said.
After serving one term in the state Senate, Paxton was elected Texas’ top attorney at a time when the attorney general assumed a newly prominent partisan role in national politics. At a 2016 event, Angela Paxton joked on stage that her husband was often away from the state Capitol or Washington, D.C., following the lead of his predecessor, Greg Abbott practices, launching a large number of lawsuits against the Obama administration. “If you’re going to come home after I go to bed, I need a reminder so you don’t get shot,” Angela said brightly, drawing laughter from the crowd. “As you can see, he’s here, not shot.” She then sang a version of a Bing Crosby and Andrews Sisters song, adapted to reflect the details of her marriage: “I’m a pistol bag mama, I Husband sues Obama, I’m a gun bag” Mom, yes, I am. “
Under Paxton, the attorney general’s office issued guidance classifying gender-affirming care of minors as child abuse and supported legislation that would encourage private citizens to sue anyone who helped others obtain abortions. Paxton said he would support Texas’ anti-sodomy law if the Supreme Court rehears Lawrence v. Texas. He is also a prominent defender of Donald Trump. Paxton speaks at a pro-Trump rally before the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, with Angela at his side. “Because we are here today, our message is: We will not give up the fight,” he said. “We are Texans. We are Americans. We will not give up.” He went on to blame Antifa for that afternoon’s violence and spearheaded a lawsuit that unsuccessfully sought to overturn the election.
Some Republicans are troubled that statewide concerns appear to be giving way to grandstanding about national issues. The attorney general’s office also has a reputation for issuing opinions that serve the interests of Paxton’s supporters, a former senior Republican elected official told me. “I can’t imagine this happening under Abbott and certainly not under [John] Cornyn,” now a senator, he said.
Soon after Paxton took over as attorney general, he fired senior employees and replaced them with aides with far-right backgrounds. The new hires include Jeff Mateer, an attorney who represented an Oregon bakery that refused to bake a cake for a lesbian couple and said transgender children were part of a “Satan plan.” In September, Martel was the first whistleblower called to testify against Paxton. Martel was red-faced and upset in the stands, but his sense of betrayal by his former boss was palpable. “I have concluded that Mr. Paxton’s conduct was unethical, unethical, and I sincerely believe it was unlawful,” he said.
The impeachment charges stem from Paxton’s relationship with developer Nate Paul. The son of immigrants from India, Paul purchased his first piece of real estate, a thirteen-unit apartment building, after completing his freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin. He eventually dropped out of college, and when he was around twenty-two, his business began raising $25 million in investments from the Austin Police Retirement System. Paul’s timing was fortuitous: The 2008 recession hit shortly after he started his business, he purchased properties during a time of low interest rates and prices, and saw their valuations rise dramatically during Austin’s tech-fueled boom. “Nate Paul” was Austin’s most searched phrase in 2014 business magazine website; three years later, Paul, then thirty, told Forbes He “kind of cornered the market on potential office space in downtown Austin.”
But soon there were signs of trouble. In 2018, Paul’s businesses began defaulting on loans said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The following year, his office and home were raided by the FBI (In June, Paul was indicted on eight counts of lying to financial institutions to obtain loans. According to the indictment, he provided crudely doctored financial statements, e.g., an account Holding $18.5 million when in fact only $12,000 was held. Paul has previously denied wrongdoing in the case.) Paul believes the raid was politically motivated and he wants the attorney general’s office to intervene. According to one of the whistleblowers, Paxton believed his securities fraud charges were the result of a biased investigation and was a willing listener. But his deputies are skeptical. Paxton’s former law enforcement chief, a rowdy Texas Ranger veteran named David Maxwell, testified that he warned his boss not to get involved with Paul. “I told him Nate Paul was a criminal who was running a Ponzi scheme that would involve Billie Sol Estes (the notorious Texas scammer) crime) is comparable to, “If he doesn’t get rid of this guy and stop doing what he’s supposed to do, if he does, he’s going to be prosecuted. ” Legal representatives for Paxton and Paul did not respond to requests for comment.