Ken Paxton, suspended Attorney General of Texas (center), made a speech at his Austin office in May.
Supporters of Ken Paxton have launched a campaign of political pressure backed by billionaires of the hard right to try and influence the outcome of his upcoming impeachment hearing.
Their efforts are focused on a small group of 19 Republican State Senate members who will serve as jurors and decide if the allegations of corruption and power abuse are serious enough to remove Mr. Paxton permanently from office.
The effort to save Mr. Paxton is the latest proxy in a larger fight about the future direction of both the Texas and national party.
The impeachment has been supported by a number of conservative figures, including Rick Perry, former Texas Governor, Karl Rove, former political advisor to George W. Bush and Steve Bannon. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has slammed it as a Democrat witch hunt.
This month, Mr. Bannon said in his podcast that he wanted the MAGA movement as a whole to realize that what is happening in Texas was not only about Texas.
The debate over Mr. Paxton reflects the same deep Republican divides that emerged in Georgia after the indictment Donald J. Trump. It raises the question again of whether Republicans will hold conservatives accountable -- and if so, whether they can survive a primaries.
Paxton, who is a conservative lawyer and a leading figure in the conservative legal movement, has managed to stay politically relevant despite a criminal investigation and an impending impeachment. He has made aggressive challenges against the Biden Administration, especially over its immigration policy, and led coalitions from Republican states to oppose Obama-era policies such as the Affordable Health Care Act and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects migrants from deportation when they arrived in the United States as young children.
After demonstrating his willingness in court to challenge the results of the election for 2020, he won Mr. Trump's support in a fiercely contested primary last year. He was an outspoken partisan, and he spoke to the crowd before the insurrection that took place at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020, at a rally held for Mr. Trump.
But those conservative credentials might not be enough to ensure that Mr. Paxton can survive the biggest test of his career. Although Republicans hold a majority in the Texas Legislature the most partisan members don't always have the upper hand.
In May, a majority in the House of Representatives joined Democrats in impeaching Mr. Paxton. They were disturbed by his conduct as an elected official -- including allegations of long-standing corruption and criminal charges for securities fraud.
Picture of state legislators and visitors listening to the impeachment proceeding against Ken Paxton at the Texas Capitol. Image credit: Mike Osborne, The New York Times
David Simpson, former Republican member in the Texas House, said that it was unconscionable for anyone who supports our policies to be protected and defended if they have abused their position. I would like to think that we wouldn't defend these people but instead say we support their policy, but don't approve of their behavior and ask them step down.
Mr. Paxton has sided with Mr. Trump in an attempt to capitalize on the Republican anger over the numerous indictments against the former president. 'Everyone should be afraid of the weaponization state power that they have harnessed in order to destroy him', Mr. Paxton wrote alongside a photo of himself smiling with Mr. Trump on X, formerly Twitter.
A well-funded political committee, Defend Texas Liberty has started targeting Republican members of Texas House who voted against Mr. Paxton.
People know that this is a witch hunt. Jonathan Stickland of Defend Texas Liberty said on conservative radio this month that they were doing the same thing to Trump and trying to do the same to Paxton.
Stickland, who was a member of the Texas House at the time, said that his group would spend "an epic amount of money" in anticipation of the impeachment. He said that if the group were to oppose this, they would be thrown out.
The group has already begun to target Republican legislators who they perceive as not being conservative enough.
One billboard said: 'Glenn Rogers has joined 61 Democrats in impeaching Ken Paxton'. This was a reference to the representative from Fort Worth's west who had been targeted by hard-right Republicans during recent primaries.
In a recent CBS interview, Mr. Rogers said that 'over 70 percent of Republicans had voted in the same manner as I did'. They conveniently left out that fact. He said that the evidence against Paxton was convincing. He said that no one he spoke to believed that Mr. Paxton was innocent.
In late May, by a vote of 120 to 23, the House sent to the Senate 20 articles of impeachment for trial. In response to the vote, Mr. Paxton was suspended from his office pending trial. In the articles of impeachment, it is alleged that Mr. Paxton misused his office in order to benefit a real estate developer and Austin donor, Nate Paul. It's also alleged that Paul paid for renovations at one of Attorney General's homes and helped hide Mr. Paxton extramarital affair.
The lawyers of Mr. Paxton have denied any wrongdoing, and they are moving to dismiss the articles without a trial.
Other prominent Republicans have also said that the evidence should be taken seriously, including Mr. Perry. He is a three-term Governor who has been loved by many in the State. Perry wrote: 'I am aware that processes can be abused', citing accusations he faced himself as governor, alleging he abused his powers, and which were eventually dismissed. "But that's not what I see in this case," he said.
The House impeachment manager, who is acting as the prosecution, released thousands pages of evidence this month. The documents included transcripts from interviews with senior aides, who were upset at Mr. Paxton using the office to thwart a probe into Mr. Paul. They also contained documents that suggested Mr. Paul had helped Mr. Paxton use a pseudonymous Uber profile under the name "Dave P" in order to visit the woman he was seeing.
Mr. Paul entered a not guilty plea in June after being indicted on charges of financial crime for false statements made on loan applications. Both Mr. Paxton and his lawyer failed to respond to an inquiry for comment.
Supporters of the suspended Attorney General have focused their attention on the upcoming trial. They have also targeted Republican state Senators, including Bryan Hughes (the conservative who authored Texas' restrictive abortion law in 2021), urging them vote to acquit Paxton or dismiss the articles.
Image In May, the Texas House voted unanimously to impeach Mr. Paxton. The voting board lit up with green lights. Credit... Eric Gay/Associated Press
Lauren Davis, who's running for the Dallas County Republican Party chair, said that six senators were conservatives in an interview with Mr. Bannon on his show 'War Room'. We just have to make sure that they remain conservative.
Last week, Fox News aired an ad in support of Mr. Paxton before the Republican presidential debate of 2024. The ad urged viewers to contact Republican state senators in order to'stop the impeachment'.
Republicans in the Senate are less likely to be influenced by political pressures than their counterparts in the House. The majority of them will not face reelection until 2026.
The lawyers for Mr. Paxton have filed motions to throw out each article of impeachment based on different legal grounds. The Senate may decide to act next week. If the case continues, Mr. Paxton can be removed from his office with two-thirds of votes to convict him on any one of the articles. This would require that at least nine Republicans join all 12 Democrats.
Recent lobbying efforts suggested that there may be a trend against Mr. Paxton. Political consultants, lobbyists, and former legislators warned that the outcome of this impeachment case -- the third in Texas in over a century -- is still up in the air.
Mr. Paxton continues to be supported, especially by a small group of Republican donors. Since the impeachment, he has raised $3 million, with half coming from four donors including West Texas billionaires Tim Dunn, and Farris Willks.
Since the impeachment, Defend Texas Liberty has spent an additional $3.5 million, nearly all of which was donated by Mr. Dunn. The majority of the money was donated to the campaign for Dan Patrick, the lieutenant-governor who is the State Senate leader and will preside over the impeachment trials: a contribution of $1 million and a loan of $2 million.
Mr. Patrick declined to comment on the contributions. They became public after he issued an order banning all discussion about the trial from House members, Senators, witnesses and lawyers.
The generosity of conservative donors helped fund a battle between Republican power centres in Texas, in which impeachment was only the latest front. Mr. Dunn, Mr. Wilks and other conservative outsider candidates have been funded by them in Texas. One of these was a Republican primary challenger who failed to defeat Gov. Greg Abbott. Greg Abbott was the governor of Texas last year. Mr. Abbott is yet to comment on the impeachment of Mr. Paxton.
Their committee and an earlier version, Empower Texans has clashed against another powerful Republican group Texans for Lawsuit Reform. This group strongly supported a moderate Republican candidate to challenge Mr. Paxton in the last election. Mr. Paxton easily won and then went on to win a third term.
Stickland of Defend Texas Liberty said that the impeachment was 'bankrolled' by Texans For Lawsuit Reform. Campaign records show that the group, which has been a major contributor to Texas candidates for many years, donated more than $500,000.00 to 70 campaigns, including several legislators who opposed impeachment.
The head of Texans for Lawsuit Reform refused to comment on a request for comments, citing a gag order. He said he was placed on a witness list for the defense of Mr. Paxton.