AUSTIN, Texas — Two high-profile Houston attorneys will present the Texas House's case in the impeachment trial against Attorney General Ken Paxton in the Senate.
Houston-based attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin were introduced by House investigative committee chairman Andrew Murr Thursday.
The hiring of DeGuerin and Hardin underlines how aggressively a Republican-led investigation is moving to oust the state's top lawyer in the face of backlash from the GOP's hard right.
Over decades in Texas, DeGuerin and Hardin have become practically as recognizable in courtrooms as the politicians and famous figures they have represented. For DeGuerin, that includes former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay on charges of money laundering and Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.
Both told reporters they were alarmed by the findings against Paxton and said they will present the case to the jury — in this case, Texas' 31 state senators — as they would in any trial, which is set to begin no later than Aug. 28.
“I promise you, it's ten times worse than has been public,” Hardin said.
“This is not about punishing Mr. Paxton,” DeGuerin said. “It’s about protecting the citizens of Texas.”
DeGuerin and Hardin have more than 100 years of courtroom experience between them.
"These articles of impeachment are accusations. The accusations have been made," said DeGuerin. "So now, let the evidence begin."
"This is not about a Republican and it's not about a Democrat,” said Hardin. “And the vote in the House shows that. I, as a citizen was dumbfounded that the large number of Republicans voted the way they did. I salute them for it.”
Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, though he has yet to stand trial. His party had long taken a muted stance on the allegations — but that changed when 60 of the House’s 85 Republicans, including Speaker Dade Phelan, voted to impeach.
Six employees at the Texas attorney general’s office, including the solicitor general, have taken leaves of absence to help defend Paxton, who is temporarily suspended from office pending the outcome of the trial.
Solicitor General Judd Stone and one of Paxton’s defense attorneys, Philip Hilder, declined to comment.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, said Wednesday he cannot comment on the proceedings.
Among the questions is whether Paxton's wife, Republican state Sen. Angela Paxton, will take part or recuse herself. She has made no public statements about the impeachment and declined comment earlier this week.
“We know the importance of transparency in these proceedings because the people have a right to know,” DeGuerin said.
Hardin, a former prosecutor in Houston, was part of the special counsel investigation surrounding former President Bill Clinton in the Whitewater probe. His most recent clients have included NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson, who faced accusations of sexual misconduct while playing for the Houston Texans.
On Wednesday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott appointed the state's former elections chief, John Scott, as the state's interim attorney general.
Impeachment trial in the Senate
Impeachment in Texas is similar to the process on the federal level: After the House action, the Senate holds its trial.
The House needed just a simple majority of its 149 members to impeach Paxton, and the final 121-23 vote was a landslide. But the threshold for conviction in the Senate trial is higher, requiring a two-thirds majority of its 31 members.
If that happens, Paxton would be permanently barred from holding office in Texas. Anything less means Paxton is acquitted and can resume his third term as attorney general.
Paxton bitterly criticized the chamber's investigation as “corrupt,” secret and conducted so quickly that he and his lawyers were not allowed to mount a defense. He also called Republican House Speaker Dade a “liberal.”
The Senate is led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Like Paxton, he is a Republican who has closely allied himself with Trump, and he has driven Texas' right-wing political and policy push for the last decade. Patrick has yet to comment on the impeachment or the House's allegations.
On June 20, a special committee of senators will present the rules and procedures for the trial. During the impeachment trial, the 31 senators will serve as the jury. Twelve state representatives will serve as prosecutors.
The defendant, Paxton, is allowed to bring in outside attorneys or the Office of the Attorney General can represent him.
One important rule will be how much time each side gets to present their case.
Our political expert Bob Stein said this is a very crucial point for the Republican agenda.
"The more time you spend on an impeachment trial, the more time you don’t spend on school choice, border security, property taxes," Stein said.
There are 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats in the Senate that will determine the fate of Paxton. That includes Paxton's wife.
Experts say it will be interesting to see whether she participates in the trial.
"If she is not required to recuse herself, she is either voting for or against her husband and some of the charges relate to some benefits she received," said Rice University professor Mark Jones.
Murr said it's possible a decision on if Paxton's wife will be a part of the trial could be included in the senate rules.
The impeachment charges include bribery related to one of Paxton’s donors, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, allegedly employing the woman with whom he had the affair in exchange for legal help.