AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas state Sen. Angela Paxton, the wife of Attorney General Ken Paxton, is barred from voting in the impeachment trial that could lead to her husband’s permanent removal from office, the Republican-controlled Senate decided Wednesday night.
The rule settles a question that has loomed over the Texas Capitol since Ken Paxton last month became just the third sitting official to be impeached in Texas’ nearly 200-year history.
Senators scheduled the trial to begin Sept. 5.
Angela Paxton, a Republican, had not said whether she would recuse from herself helping determine whether her husband of more than 30 years will be convicted over accusations that include abuse of power and accepting bribes.
That left the issue up to her fellow 30 senators, many of whom are conservative allies of Ken Paxton, who for years has maintained support among Texas Republicans despite alleged wrongdoing and scandal that has hung over him for three terms.
“The citizens of Texas can count on the Senate of Texas to have a fair and just trial,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate’s presiding officer.
Patrick had previously said in May that all 31 senators would vote in the impeachment proceedings, and while he did not mention Angela Paxton by name at the time, the possibility was widely criticized by legal scholars.
Under the rules, Angela Paxton is required to attend the proceedings but prohibited from participating in any way, including closed session or deliberations. The rules state that a spouse is “considered to have a conflict” under the Texas Constitution.
A vote to convict Ken Paxton in the Senate would require a two-thirds threshold in the chamber, which has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats. If all Democrats vote to convict, nine Republicans would have to join them in order to remove Paxton from office.
Angela Paxton has not publicly commented on the accusations against her husband, who is also under FBI investigation and has attacked the impeachment as an attempt to disenfranchise Texas voters who elected him to a third term last year.
Paxton, who in 2020 sought to baselessly overturn President Joe Biden’s victory, is suspended from office pending the outcome of the Senate trial.
He has kept a low profile since being impeached in May by the state House and has broadly denied the accusations laid out in 20 impeachment articles. Many of the charges surround Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, a Paxton donor who was indicted in a Texas federal court this month on charges of making false statements to banks.
In Texas, the leader of the senate is the lieutenant governor, making the job one of the most powerful in any U.S. statehouse. Patrick has declined to comment on the impeachment charges, and under the rules that were overwhelmingly approved Wednesday night, senators are prohibited from publicly speaking about the case.
Other rules state that all witnesses must testify in public, and under oath, and that deliberations among senators will take place in private.
Senators spent two days behind closed doors this week discussing the rules before emerging Wednesday night with more than two dozen pages of them. The rules do not set a definitive length for the trial but allow each side 24 total hours of evidence and testimony.
The case for convicting Paxton will be led by two prominent Texas attorneys, Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, who House Republicans hired for the trial.
Patrick, who will serve as the trial’s presiding officer, carries into the proceedings financial entanglements with the accused. Ken Paxton has yet to repay a $125,000 campaign loan that Patrick gave him in 2018, when Paxton’s reelection appeared vulnerable after being indicted three years earlier on securities fraud charges. Paxton has pleaded not guilty and the case has yet go to trial.
Patrick said the outstanding debt wouldn’t influence his judgement.
“I have loaned money and given money to a lot of different candidates,” he has said.
The impeachment charges also allude to a senator, Republican Bryan Hughes. Paxton is accused of using him to request a legal opinion that would protect Paul from losing properties in foreclosure. Another impeachment concerns Paxton’s extramarital affair with a woman who was employed by Paul and has also worked for Republican Sen. Donna Campbell.
The rules do not limit their participation in the trial.