Republicans Trade Blows in Texas GOP Civil War After Ken Paxton Acquitted

Texas Republicans traded blows Saturday afternoon after the state Senate voted to acquit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has faced a number of allegations ranging from bribery to having an extramarital affair.

The GOP-led state Senate voted to acquit Paxton on all 16 articles of impeachment he faced, with only two Republicans, state Senators Robert Nichols and Kelly Hancock, crossing party lines to vote in favor of convicting the conservative attorney general. The range of allegations against Paxton included corruption, misusing official information, abusing his official capacity and retaliation.

The acquittal comes months after the state House, which is also led by Republicans, overwhelmingly voted to impeach him in May by a vote of 121-23, resulting in his suspension from office.

Paxton was specifically accused off abusing his status to intervene in an investigation against real estate investor Nate Paul. He’s also accused of attempting to help a woman with whom he was allegedly having an extramarital affair land a job. He has denied all wrongdoing, denouncing the impeachment charges as politically motivated.

Ken Paxton impeachment vote
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks outside the U.S. Supreme Court on November 1, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Paxton’s acquittal vote in the Texas Senate on Saturday sparked division among Republican state lawmakers.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Hancock explained his vote in a statement to Newsweek on Sunday.

“It was my constitutional obligation to seek the truth based on the facts made available through witness testimony and all documents admitted into evidence, then vote accordingly. My vote on each article reflects that responsibility, and none was taken lightly,” he wrote.

Texas GOP chairman Matt Rinaldi previously predicted “an all-out Republican civil war” if Paxton were to be convicted in an interview with local news station WFAA’s Y’all-itics podcast. He said he believes many of the Republicans who voted to impeach Paxton may be vulnerable to primary challenges.

“I do see many of those members being vulnerable in the next primary and I think Republican voters are very galvanized around this issue,” Rinaldi said.

Paxton celebrated his Senate acquittal in a statement released after the vote, taking a jab at state House Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican who previously led his impeachment vote.

“The sham impeachment vote coordinated by the Biden Administration with liberal House Speaker Dade Phelan and his kangaroo court has cost taxpayers millions of dollars, disrupted the work of the Office of Attorney General and left a dark and permanent stain on the Texas House,” he wrote. “The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle political differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt.”

Phelan, on the other hand criticized the Senate for not convicting Paxton in his own statement.

“It is unfortunate that the outcome of this process will ultimately relinquish control of the state’s top law enforcement agency to an individual who, I believe, clearly abused his power, compromised his agency and its employees, and moved mountains to protect and benefit himself,” he wrote.

He added that the vote was “not the end of this matter,” as Paxton continues to face other lawsuits and investigations. He issued a warning for the Republican senators who voted against convicting Paxton.

“If new facts continue to come out, those who allowed him to keep his office will have much to answer for,” Phelan wrote in his statement.

Some conservatives launched attacks against Nichols and Hancock for voting against Paxton. Conservative commentator and attorney Rogan O’Handley wrote in a post to social media platform X, formerly Twitter, “TEXANS: These 2 RINO backstabbers voted to impeach AG Ken Paxton Robert Nichols – district 3 Kelly Hancock – district 9 PRIMARY THEM.”

Newsweek reached out to Nichols for comment via email.

Update 09/17/2023, 11:58 a.m. ET: This article was updated with comment from Hancock.

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