By PAUL J. WEBER and JAKE BLEIBERG
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton moved closer to a verdict Thursday as closing arguments were set in the historic case that has put the embattled Republican’s career in jeopardy over accusations of corruption and bribery.
Both sides were scheduled to present final arguments Friday before a jury of state senators begins deliberating whether Paxton — only the third sitting official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to be impeached — should be removed from office.
Deliberations will be done privately. It is unclear how quickly the Texas Senate could reach a verdict. But Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said the trial will continue through the weekend if necessary.
Late Thursday, Paxton’s defense team rested after calling just four witnesses, all of them current employees.
“I assured myself and I assured my wife that if there were ever anything that I saw that were illegal or unethical that I would step away,” said Austin Kinghorn, a senior lawyer in the attorney general’s office. “And I’m still here. I’m proud of the work we do. I’m proud to serve General Paxton.”
With time running out, Paxton on Thursday pointed to renewed support from Donald Trump, who blasted the impeachment as “shameful” in the waning moments of a trial that has showcased fractures in the party. Paxton was impeached by the Republican-led Texas House in May, and activists on the hard right have sought to dial up pressure on GOP senators to acquit.
“Democrats are feeling very good right now as they watch, as usual, the Republicans fight & eat away at each other. It’s a SAD day in the Great State of Texas!” Trump wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
The trial centers on accusations that Paxton abused his power and broke the law to help Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, who was indicted earlier in June on charges of making false statements to banks in order to obtain more than $170 million in loans. Paul has pleaded not guilty.
Attorneys for the bipartisan group of lawmakers prosecuting Paxton’s impeachment rested their case Wednesday after a woman who was expected to testify about an extramarital affair with the attorney general made a sudden appearance at the trial, but she never wound up taking the stand.
The affair is central to the historic proceedings in the Texas Senate and accusations that Paxton misused his power to help Paul, who was under FBI investigation and employed the woman, Laura Olson. One of the 16 articles of impeachment against Paxton alleges that Paul’s hiring of Olson amounted to a bribe.
Paxton, who was suspended from office pending the trial’s outcome, is not required to attend the proceedings and has not appeared since testimony began last week. His wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, is required to attend but is not allowed to vote.
Paxton has said he will travel to Maine next week to talk with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson. On Thursday, he touted Trump’s support in an online appeal for donations that included photos of him with the former president.
Like Trump, Paxton is facing an array of legal troubles and the accompanying lawyers’ fees. He remains under federal investigation for the same allegations that gave rise to his impeachment and faces a bar disciplinary proceeding over his effort to overturn the 2020 election. Also, he has yet to stand trial on state securities fraud charges dating to 2015. Paxton pleaded not guilty in that case, but his lawyers have said removal from office might open the door to him making a plea agreement.
Paxton’s impeachment trial has focused on the testimony of his former staff, including a group of senior deputies who reported the attorney general to the FBI in 2020, accusing him of breaking the law to help Paul. The prosecutors spent considerable time establishing the group’s conservative credentials.
The people Paxton needs to ultimately convince are Republican senators serving as the jury. A two-thirds majority — or 21 senators — is required for conviction, meaning that if all 12 Democrats vote against Paxton, at least nine Republicans would have to join them.
Bleiberg reported from Dallas.
Find AP’s full coverage of the impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at: https://apnews.com/hub/ken-paxton