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Texas AG Ken Paxton pleads not guilty on first day of impeachment trial

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 16 counts related to alleged abuse of office as his impeachment trial got underway in the state Senate. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 16 counts related to alleged abuse of office as his impeachment trial got underway in the state Senate. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 5 (UPI) -- Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 16 counts related to alleged abuse of office as his impeachment trial got underway in the state Senate.

Tuesday's trial started with 16 motions to dismiss being soundly defeated, as acting trial judge Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ruled that the Republican attorney general would not be forced to testify.

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Paxton has been suspended from office since May after the GOP-controlled Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach him on allegations of bribery and dereliction of duty.

Paxton, a Trump ally who is married to state Sen. Angela Paxton, is accused of influencing employees in his office to swing legal disputes in favor of real estate developer Nate Paul. In return, Paul provided renovations at Paxton's home and employed a woman with whom Paxton was allegedly having an affair.

The trial is expected to center on Paxton's alleged infidelity and the impeachable lengths he went to to hide the affair from his wife and the conservative voters who put him in office.

In May, House impeachment managers presented evidence of burner phones and secret email addresses used to keep Paxton's secret.

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"The affair is important because it goes to Ken Paxton's political strength," Rep. Ann Johnson, a House Democrat who investigated Paxton, said during the impeachment hearing in May. "He knows that with his folks, he is 'family values.' He is a Christian man. And the idea of the exposure of the affair will risk him with his base."

Paxton, who was first elected in 2014, has denied the allegations and called the impeachment "outrageous" and part of an unfair "plot" against him.

According to rules adopted in June, Paxton's wife will attend the state Senate trial but will not participate in any of the deliberations or vote. A two-thirds majority of the senators is required on any one of the 16 charges to convict or remove Paxton from office. If acquitted of all charges, he will return to his role as attorney general.

While Paxton pleaded not guilty during Tuesday's morning session, he did not attend the trial's opening statements in the afternoon.

During Tuesday's opening statements, Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr claimed -- on behalf of House impeachment managers -- that Paxton "turned over the keys" of the attorney general's office to Paul. The real estate developer was charged in June with eight felony counts of lying to financial institutions to secure business loans.

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"Wrongs justifying impeachment don't have to be crimes," Murr said. "Wrongs justifying impeachment are broader than that because they have the purpose of protecting the state, not punishing the offender."

Paxton's lead lawyer Tony Buzbee argued that a conviction by 30 senators would be undemocratic and would undermine the wish of millions of voters who re-elected Paxton in November.

"If this misguided effort is successful, which I am confident it will not be, the precedent would be perilous for any elected official."

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