The impeachment trial of suspended Texas attorney general to begin in state Senate
DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:
In Texas today, the impeachment trial of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton begins in the state Senate. Paxton faces 20 charges, including obstruction of justice, conspiracy, abuse of office and bribery, mostly surrounding his relationship with an Austin real estate developer and Paxton campaign donor. So what can we expect today? Let's go to Sergio Martinez-Beltran, political reporter for The Texas Newsroom. He's been following this story very closely. Good morning, Sergio.
SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Daniel.
ESTRIN: Twenty charges - wow. What is he accused of doing?
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Right. I mean, that list is pretty long. Paxton has been accused of using his office to protect and shield a political donor from an FBI investigation. This man is named Nate Paul. He's someone who was recently indicted on eight felony counts of making false statements to mortgage lenders and other financial institutions. And Paxton allegedly asked his top staff to help Paul and even kill the federal investigation. So all of this has led to Paxton to be impeached on seven counts of disregarding his official duties, three counts of making false statements in official records, two counts each of constitutional bribery and obstruction of justice. He's also been accused of misapplying and misappropriating public resources, conspiracy or attempted conspiracy, dereliction of duty, unfitness for office and abusing the public trust.
ESTRIN: That's a mouthful. OK. So we're going to hear opening arguments today. The first witnesses will take the stand. Who is testifying?
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: So we're expecting to hear from those former employees who warned Paxton to stay away from Nate Paul and who ultimately reported Paxton to the FBI. They said there was criminal behavior happening within the office of the attorney general. These whistleblowers were either fired or pushed out by Paxton shortly after. And they are very credible witnesses, Daniel, because, one, they are career-long public servants, but also because Paxton is despised by Democrats and those on the left. The whistleblowers are all conservative Republicans, and some were even recruited by Paxton personally. We are also expecting to hear from one of Paxton's closest aides who overheard a conversation that House investigators say show Paul was paying for Paxton's home renovations. This aide is already being considered a star witness.
ESTRIN: And what is Paxton's defense for all this?
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Well, he was at a rally over the weekend in Collin County. That's the place where Paxton rose to prominence. But he couldn't say much because there's a gag order in place. But in the past, he has denied any allegations of wrongdoing and has gone after the Republican speaker of the Texas House for moving forward with the impeachment proceeding in that chamber. In term of legal defense, one of the main arguments used by his team is a vague rule they call the prior-term doctrine. Pretty much they're saying that Paxton cannot be impeached for actions committed prior to his most recent election - so 2022. A lot of these allegations stem from actions that happened from 2019 to 2020. So under that idea, they're claiming 19 out of 20 articles of impeachment should be dismissed.
Now, the Texas Constitution does say that a person cannot be impeached for actions committed before their election to office, but it's not as explicit as Paxton's team is making it sound. It doesn't say most recent election. So that argument is something that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who serves as the presiding officer of the court of impeachment, and the senators will have to consider.
ESTRIN: OK, we'll be following. Sergio Martinez-Beltran in Austin, Texas, thanks so much.
MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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