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Rules for Paxton Impeachment Will Let His Wife Affect Outcome Without Voting

Rules adopted by the Texas State Senate include a Sept. 5 start date for the trial of the attorney general, in a case that has divided the state’s Republicans.

The Texas State Senate adopted rules on Wednesday for its impeachment trial of the Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, including a start date of Sept. 5 and a rule barring his wife, State Senator Angela Paxton, from voting on whether to convict or acquit him.

Ken Paxton stands at a microphone.
The trial of Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, will be the first impeachment trial in the state in nearly five decades, and only the second of a statewide official.Credit…Eric Gay/Associated Press

The Republican-dominated State House approved 20 articles of impeachment against Mr. Paxton last month, accusing him of using his position as attorney general to benefit himself and a campaign donor.

Among the charges are that Mr. Paxton directed staff members in his office to intervene in legal cases on behalf of the donor, an Austin real estate developer, Nate Paul, and that he took what amounted to bribes from Mr. Paul. Mr. Paxton, who is suspended from office until the trial is concluded, has denied any wrongdoing.

The impeachment has divided Republicans in Texas. A poll released this week by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas found that 31 percent of Republicans surveyed believed the impeachment was justified, while 30 percent said it was not. (The rest did not have an opinion.)

Some supporters of Mr. Paxton, who pushed national conservative causes as attorney general and received the backing of former president Donald J. Trump, urged the Senate to limit the proceedings in the impeachment trial and to provide a way for the entire case to be thrown out.

The 29 pages of rules adopted late Wednesday by a vote of 25 to 3 lay out a process much like that found in a courtroom, including pretrial motions that could result in the dismissal of some of the articles of impeachment and a public trial that will begin with Mr. Paxton entering a plea of either guilty or not guilty. Each side will be given a total of 24 total hours to present their case, a chance to cross-examine witnesses and additional time for opening and closing arguments.

The Republican-dominated Senate will decide the fate of Mr. Paxton, a Republican and the first statewide official to be impeached in more than a century.

Whether Ms. Paxton would be allowed to take part in the trial has been a central question. The Senate decided not to let her vote on conviction — or any other matter that comes up during the trial — but she can be seated, and that does have an impact. A conviction requires a two-thirds vote of the members present — 21 votes out of the 31 senators — and the rules explicitly say Ms. Paxton is to be counted as present, which would have the same effect as her voting no.

Ms. Paxton is not the only senator with a potential conflict of interest. Senator Bryan Hughes has represented Mr. Paxton as his personal lawyer in court and is referred to indirectly in one of the articles of impeachment, meaning that he could be called as a witness. So too could another senator, who at one point employed on staff a woman with whom Mr. Paxton had an extramarital affair and whom Mr. Paul later hired, according to the articles of impeachment.

The rules address this unusual situation, allowing a “member of the court” to be called as a witness and saying that such a senator would still be allowed to vote.

At the conclusion of the trial, the senators will vote separately on each article of impeachment. Conviction on any one of them would remove Mr. Paxton from office for the rest of his current term. If he is convicted, the Senate could also vote to bar him from holding any public office in Texas in the future.

State Senator Angela Paxton, on the right, stands talking to an unidentified man.
Though State Senator Angela Paxton has been barred from casting votes in the impeachment trial of her husband, her presence will have the same effect on the outcome as a vote to acquit.Credit…Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman, via Associated Press

Lawyers for Mr. Paxton and those hired by Texas House members to act as prosecutors are likely to spend the summer tangling in pretrial legal motions and briefs, with Mr. Paxton’s lawyers trying to get some of the articles dismissed.

But the rules also include a gag order, and members of the senate are barred from discussing the case publicly.

Source : The New York Times