Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s political career has been crashing down around him for months, with the once-powerful Republican’s fall from grace capped this summer when dozens of members of his own party voted to impeach him.
The impeachment vote followed a slew of allegations against the 60-year-old, primarily that he used his position to try and thwart a federal fraud probe into one of his pals and top donors, the now-arrested real estate tycoon Nate Paul.
That bombshell allegation, which was exposed by whistleblowers who worked under Paxton in the attorney general’s office in Austin, has since unraveled a slew of other sordid claims involving alleged mistresses and fake Uber accounts. Paxton has steadfastly proclaimed his innocence despite evidence stacking up against him.
Paxton’s impeachment trial is slated to begin on Tuesday. Here’s everything you need to know.
Where can I watch?
For those who want a closer look, Texas’ Senate gallery in Downtown Austin will be open to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The trial will begin at 9:00 a.m. CST on Sept. 5, and will consist of a morning and afternoon session each day. Paxton’s attorney Dan Cogdell said he expects proceedings to last a couple of weeks.
What would it take for Paxton to be removed from office?
Despite talk in August that Paxton planned to resign, he posted to social media that the rumors were “wrong” and that he’d “never stop fighting for the people of Texas and defending our conservative values.”
With a resignation off the table, Texas’ deep-red state Senate is the only entity that can oust Paxton before he’s up for re-election in 2026. Excluding Paxton’s senator wife, who’s been recused, 21 of Texas’ 30 remaining senators would need to vote in favor of Paxton’s removal. Anything less and he’ll keep his position.
In May, 121 members of the House voted in favor of impeachment, while just 23 representatives—all Republicans—were against it.
Texas’ Senate is made up of 19 Republicans, including Paxton’s wife, and 12 Democrats. A strict gag order by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the trial, has kept senators from opining publicly about where they stand.
What is Paxton accused of?
Scores of allegations have piled up, ranging from the downright illegal—such as accusations of bribery—to those more akin to a tabloid scandal—like Uber receipts showing he used a pseudonym to make repeated trips to visit his alleged mistress.
All accusations stem from Paxton’s shady relationship with Paul, who was indicted by the feds in June on accusations he falsified statements to banks to secure more than $170 million in loans.
As the FBI probed Paul, whistleblowers in Paxton’s office alleged their boss was working to stifle the investigation.
That allegedly included Paxton hiring an out-of-office prosecutor to investigate his pal’s unsubstantiated claims that FBI investigators doctored search warrant records, despite Paxton’s office employing over 750 lawyers itself. In a lawsuit against Paxton, former employees claimed he allowed Paul to hand-pick an inexperienced lawyer to investigate Paul’s claims about the FBI illegally raiding his home and businesses.
The questionable hiring of an outside lawyer appeared to be one of the final straws for whistleblowers, who went to the FBI in 2020 and said they suspected Paxton was accepting bribes from Paul—one of his biggest donors.
The alleged bribes weren’t limited to old-fashioned quid-pro-quo donations, the whistleblowers alleged. They claimed the bribes also included a “full renovation” of Paxton’s home in 2020, and that Paul put Paxton’s mistress on the payroll of his construction company.
When asked in a deposition what projects the mistress worked on while employed by his company, Paul demurred, furthering speculation she was hired solely for her connection to Paxton.
In return, whistleblowers claimed the Texas AG used his office’s power to dish secret info to Paul after the FBI raided his home and business, and helped him battle his money troubles. That allegedly included stalling foreclosure proceedings for Paul’s businesses by issuing opinions that claimed the proceedings would violate COVID-19 gathering restrictions.
David Maxwell, a former subordinate in Paxton’s office, said he tried to warn Paxton that getting tight with Paul would spell trouble, according to transcripts released in August by the Texas House General Investigating Committee.
“I said, ‘Ken, you’re going to get yourself in trouble, and I wish you’d listen to me,’” Maxwell recalled telling Paxton. “‘You could be charged with bribery.’”
Maxwell said Paxton didn’t listen, however. And, months later, whistleblowers dropped a trove of allegations that eventually led to the impeachment.
“The depth of corruption is astonishing,” famed criminal defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, who will be prosecuting Paxton, told The Daily Beast in August.
How will the trial unfold?
Lt. Gov. Patrick will be the presiding officer, acting as a judge would in a jury trial. A Republican-majority team of 12 House members will oversee the prosecution, with assistance from lawyers DeGuerin, Rusty Hardin, and Harriet O’Neill, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court. Eleven of the 12 House reps have law degrees.
Paxton’s defense will be headed by Houston attorneys Tony Buzbee and Dan Cogdell. Buzbee, an exhibitionist known in part for launching a THC seltzer brand, recently represented 20 women who accused NFL quarterback DeShaun Watson of sexual assault and harassment. Cogdell is famous in Texas legal circles for defending Clive Doyle, a Branch Davidian leader who was acquitted of murder conspiracy in the ’90s.
The Tribune predicts as many 14 witnesses could testify, including Paul and four whistleblowers from Paxton’s office.
Others who could be called to the stand include Paxton’s former personal assistant and driver Drew Wicker, as well as Jeff Mateer, Paxton’s former top deputy before he resigned in 2020.
Margaret Moore, the former district attorney in Austin’s Travis County, could also testify. Paxton claimed previously that he began probing the FBI raid of Paul’s home and businesses because Moore’s office asked him to—a claim she refuted.
What happened to Paxton’s whistleblowers?
Paxton has been under a microscope since October 2o2o, when eight employees of his office either quit or were shown the door—the first public sign of internal turmoil within the attorney general’s office.
Four of those employees have since been identified as whistleblowers—bounced from their jobs after they went to the FBI with alleged dirt on their boss.
A day after meeting FBI agents in Austin, the whistleblowers alleged in a lawsuit, they texted their boss and told him they’d gone to the feds about his relationship with Paul. They claimed they asked to speak to Paxton in person, but he never responded.
James Blake Brickman, formerly Texas’ deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives, was fired by Paxton on Oct. 20, 2020, allegedly for being a whistleblower. Prior to their relationship souring, Paxton lauded Brickman as an “amazing addition” to his office, The New York Times reported, citing legal filings. His LinkedIn says he’s now chief operating officer and head of public affairs for Lonsdale Enterprises, a venture capital firm.
Others who resigned or were fired included Maxwell, the deputy director and director of the law enforcement division; Mark Penley, the deputy attorney general for criminal justice; and Ryan Vassar, the deputy attorney general for legal counsel to the attorney general’s office.
Maxwell’s LinkedIn has not been updated since he left the attorney general’s office. Penley, who refused to resign and forced Paxton to fire him, struggled to find a job despite 40 years of legal experience, The Texas Tribune reported, citing his lawyer.
Vassar was the final whistleblower to be axed. He claimed in the lawsuit that he refused Paxton’s requests to unearth information that could help Paul. He’s now the general counsel at the Cicero Institute, which describes itself as “a nonpartisan policy organization focused on fixing broken systems in the public sector.”
With Paxton’s staff depleting, the whistleblowers alleged the AG went rogue, embarking on a smear campaign to try and discredit their claims.
“Paxton falsely smeared the whistleblowers publicly in the manner calculated to harm them the most, threatened them, tried to intimidate them, and engaged in all manner of retaliation ranging from serious to petty to pathetic,” their lawsuit said.
Could Paxton face criminal charges?
While Paxton’s upcoming impeachment hearings are related to alleged illegal conduct on the job, the outcome of the trial will not equate to a conviction or exoneration on criminal charges.
Separately, however, Paxton is battling unrelated criminal charges that were filed just a few months into his tenure as Texas’ lead prosecutor.
The securities fraud charges stem from allegations in 2011 that Paxton solicited investors in a software company from his hometown without disclosing that the tech company was paying him to promote its stock. The charges are first-degree felonies that carry a punishment up to 99 years in prison, The Texas Tribune reported.
He also faces a single count of failing to register with state securities regulators—a third-degree felony that could land him in prison for up to 10 years if convicted.
The case has been repeatedly delayed as his lawyers have filed appeals, including unsuccessful attempts dismiss the charges altogether and a back-and-forth with prosecutors on where in Texas the trial should be held.
A Harris County judge ruled in August that Paxton’s criminal trial will begin in Houston in 2024.