The handwriting on the wall just lit up in neon lights. The New York Times is reporting that “the Texas Senate voted to acquit the state attorney general, Ken Paxton, after a nine-day impeachment trial that focused on allegations of corruption and divided the Republican Party in Texas. Mr. Paxton, who had been suspended during the trial, was set to immediately resume his position.” This is not, I repeat not, a story of issues within the Texas GOP. This trial is a regional microcosm of what’s wrong with the entire GOP and what’s wrong with the GOP is what’s killing this country right now. That’s why this acquittal is a screaming BFD on steroids.
And I’m not being hyperbolic, unfortunately, despite appearances to the contrary. That is the state of play right now in the last three and a half months before a contentious election year. Corruption is the name of the game. Walking scot free from wrongdoing is what the GOP has demonstrated, yet one more time, that they are about. The day may be fast approaching that Donald Trump can shoot somebody in the middle of 5th Avenue and walk.
Paxton was tried on 16 articles of impeachment related to accusations, leveled primarily by former top deputies who became whistle-blowers, that Mr. Paxton had abused his office to help the real estate investor, Nate Paul, who was said to have given Mr. Paxton help with home renovations and an extramarital affair in return.
The case has been closely watched around the country. Mr. Paxton has led a variety of legal challenges to the Biden administration on issues relating to immigration, abortion and the 2020 election, among others.
A majority of Republicans in the Texas House voted in May to impeach Mr. Paxton, but the Senate failed to uphold those findings.
It would have taken a two-thirds vote — 21 of the 31 senators — in favor of conviction on any of the 16 articles to remove him from office.
Both Mr. Paxton and Mr. Paul have denied any wrongdoing.
Here’s what to know:
The senators voted on 16 of 20 articles of impeachment approved by the Texas House in May.
The trial featured eight days of testimony from 19 witnesses, including former senior aides to Mr. Paxton like Jeff Mateer, who were alarmed by unusual legal interventions by the attorney general in matters connected to Mr. Paul and eventually reported them to law enforcement.
At one point, the prosecution called as a witness Laura Olson, a former staff member for a Republican state senator and the woman with whom Mr. Paxton had the extramarital affair. Mr. Paxton’s lawyers immediately objected, and she ultimately did not testify.
The trial featured clashes between larger-than-life Texas lawyers. In Mr. Paxton’s corner, there was Tony Buzbee, who successfully defended Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, against charges of abuse of office. The prosecution had at its center Rusty Hardin, a defender of criminally accused athletes like Roger Clemens and Scottie Pippen.
The impeachment has deepened rifts within the Texas Republican Party, with backers of Mr. Paxton, including Mr. Trump, attacking those who supported the prosecution as insufficiently conservative.
This is MAGA eating the GOP. Think of the image of an eclipse eating the moon and you’ve got it. Mitt Romney, who is being characterized by some as “the last Republican” walked away from all this a few days ago. This trial has been framed, primarily by Paxton himself, in culture war terms, as being brought by “RINOS and Democrats,” and “far-left radicals” establishing “a kangaroo court in the Texas Legislature to eliminate America’s most conservative attorney general.”
And listen to this exchange. This sounds like something out of the McCarthy witch hunt in the 50’s, except now the label “Democrat” is being used in lieu of “Communist.” And that’s the MAGA hype, that the Democrats are commies and un-American. No. These fascist MAGAs are un-American. People were actually on the witness stand, denying they were RINOs or had ever voted for a Democrat, in order to not identify with “the enemy.”
In a nod to the politics looming in the background, the prosecutors also frequently sought to highlight the staunchly conservative backgrounds of the witnesses against Mr. Paxton.
Part of the reason for doing so is the nature of the jury pool: The voting senators included 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. But it also reflected efforts by the conservative wing of the party to attack the impeachment as a political plot put forward by lobbyists, RINOs — Republicans in name only — and Democrats in Austin.
“Are you a RINO?” Mr. Hardin asked the first witness in the case, a recurring question.
“No” was the universal answer.
“Have you ever voted for a Democrat in your life?” Mr. Hardin asked another witness, Mark Penley, a former deputy attorney general for criminal justice.
“No,” Mr. Penley replied.
Mr. Paxton’s lawyers tried to create the impression that politicians like him, a supporter of former President Donald J. Trump, were under attack by moderate Republicans. They named well-known lobbyists, donors and consultants as well as Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a conservative policy organization that has been powerful in Austin, as instigators.
“Have you ever voted for a Democrat in your life?” “Have you ever attended a meeting of the Communist Party?”
Here’s another nutty exchange.
“You were staging a coup, weren’t you?” said one of the defense lawyers, Tony Buzbee, in cross-examining Mr. Paxton’s former top aide, Jeff Mateer.
“Absolutely not,” Mr. Mateer said.
This demonstrates that whistle-blowers, showing what a crook Paxton is, were merely political enemies looking to do a coup d’etat — at least that’s Paxton’s characterization.
The trial ended with Dan Patrick announcing that Paxton returns to work. Before Patrick gaveled the trial out, he castigated the Texas House, accusing them of “triple hearsay that would not be allowed in court.” Patrick also wants to amend the Texas Constitution, in order to achieve “accountability.” Relations between the Texas House and Senate were frosty before, look for an arctic freeze going forward.
As to the larger picture, this is just one more example of how most Republicans are stuck like flies in amber and they will go along with whatever a few movers and shakers tell them to do. This is the foreshadowing of worse things to come. The Republican party is dead. This is what’s rising from the ashes, authoritarianism.