“Get ready”: Ken Paxton promises retribution in interview blitz after impeachment trial

Attorney General Ken Paxton at a border security briefing at the Texas DPS airport hangar in Edinburg on Jan. 28, 2022. Paxton's office coordinated the event with 12 attorneys general from around the U.S. to dicuss legal action taken against the Biden administration about immigration policy. (Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune, Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune)

The Texas Tribune is your source for in-depth reporting on the Ken Paxton impeachment trial. Readers make that possible. Support authoritative Texas journalism with a donation now.

Newly reinstated Attorney General Ken Paxton went on a tour of conservative talk radio Thursday morning, revealing new details about his impeachment trial and political ambitions.

Among other things, Paxton discussed how much the trial cost him — over $4 million — and vowed to get involved in primary challenges to House Republicans who voted to impeach him.

The Senate voted Saturday to acquit Paxton on all 16 articles of impeachment for which he had been tried that accused him of abuse of office and bribery. The decision has ratched up a GOP civil war in Texas, especially between the Senate and House, which overwhelmingly voted to impeach Paxton in May.

The radio interviews came the morning after Paxton gave his first post-acquittal interview to Tucker Carlson, telling the former Fox News host he was “re-energized” after the acquittal.

Here are highlights from the radio interviews:

Trial cost

Paxton revealed how much his impeachment defense cost him as he railed against the House for being able to use taxpayer dollars for their lawyers.

“The whole thing cost me over $4 million,” Paxton told radio host Chris Salcedo, noting he still had legal bills that totaled over $1 million.

But as he’s done before, he stressed “not a single taxpayer dollar” went toward it.

Paxton made clear that he spent considerable time raising money for his defense, telling Dallas radio host Mark Davis it was a reason he did not attend most days of the trial. He told Davis that the total cost was more “like $4.5 million total” and he “raised almost $3 million” over the summer, a personal record.

Primary involvement

Davis asked Paxton if he would be “actively supporting and funding primary challenges to some of your tormentors” — and Paxton replied “absolutely.”

“I’m highly motivated,” Paxton said. “I’ll be spending a lot of time in Beaumont. I’ll be spending a lot of time … in Kerrville. I’ll be spending a lot of time in Collin County.”

Beaumont is the hometown of House Speaker Dade Phelan, while Kerrville is a city in the district of Rep. Andrew Murr, who chaired the House impeachment managers. Collin County is Paxton’s home county where all the Republican state representatives voted to impeach him.

One of those local representatives was Jeff Leach, who was an impeachment manager and gave one of their closing arguments.

“Jeff Leach, get ready,” Paxton told Davis.

Leach appeared to respond to Paxton on X, formerly known as Twitter, posting a well-known clip of high school football players chanting "we ready."

The actual allegations

None of the radio interviewers seemed particularly interested in revisiting the actual allegations in the trial – that Paxton abused his office to help a friend and donor, Nate Paul. Seven former top deputies reported their concerns about the relationship to the FBI in 2020.

But Davis asked a question that prompted Paxton to tell his side of the story, or at least part of it.

Paxton traced the controversy back to his hiring of Jeff Mateer as his top deputy. Paxton said he had never met Mateer before he quickly hired him after a falling out with his previous first assistant attorney general, now-U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin. Paxton said Mateer’s “whole life fell apart” after his nomination to the federal bench failed in 2017 and Mateer began elevating people to be deputies who were being influenced by “outside sources” who did not like Paxton.

“I should’ve paid more attention,” Paxton said of Mateer’s hires. “It’s on me because I should’ve figured this out.”

As for Paul, Paxton said he was genuinely interested in the real estate investor’s claims that he was the target of a sprawling law enforcement conspiracy involving the FBI and Justice Department — who, Paxton added, “I do not trust.” Paxton said he “felt an obligation to find out the truth” and it never happened because the deputies-turned-whistleblowers stood in the way.

However, forensic investigators with the attorney general’s office did look into — and refute — Paul’s claim that search warrant records had been altered after 2019 raids on his home and businesses, according to impeachment exhibits filed by prosecutors.

A possible Cornyn challenge

Paxton has long been seen as a potential primary challenger to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in 2026, and he told Carlson that “everything is on the table.”

Speaking with Davis, Paxton gave a little more detail on his thinking.

“Whether it’s me or somebody else, his time is done,” Paxton said. “I don’t necessarily have a plan to [run against Cornyn] right now.”

Paxton added that he is currently focused on being attorney general but “not ruling out anything.”

Cornyn has been lonely among top Texas Republicans by consistently expressing concern about the whistleblower claims since they came out. He said last year he was “embarrassed” by Paxton’s scandals.

Angela Paxton’s recusal

Paxton stressed that he disagreed with a Senate trial rule that rescued his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton. She was allowed to attend the trial but could not vote or participate in deliberations.

“I couldn’t believe that they did it, and I think it was wrong,” Paxton told Davis.

Paxton told Salcedo that his wife “had a constitutional right to represent her constituents” by participating in the trial.

Angela Paxton nonetheless attended every day of the trial. She sat through testimony that included one witness who extensively described how she learned about an alleged extramarital affair that Paxton had.

Ken Paxton told Salcedo that his wife’s involvement in the trial was “heroic … even though she was robbed of her right” to vote.

Angela Paxton, who voted against the rule package, said after the trial she would have voted to acquit her husband.

TLR's influence

Paxton expressed scorn for a host of political enemies but was especially vocal about the veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, the group that heavily funded one of Paxton's 2022 primary challengers. TLR has denied any involvement in initiating Paxton's impeachment.

"That little group — TLR, Karl Rove, the Bushes — were absolutely involved," Paxton told Salcedo. "This group has been trying to take me out ever since I got into office."

Paxton specifically accused TLR of having a hand in an op-ed from former Gov. Rick Perry that the Wall Street Journal published days before the trial. In that op-ed, Perry urged senators to proceed to a "full and fair hearing," implying they should reject Paxton's pretrial motions to dismiss.

In an Aug. 17 email obtained by the Tribune, longtime TLR leader Dick Trabulsi sent Rove an apparent draft of Perry's op-ed, said he would like to discuss it with Rove and asked whether the Wall Street Journal would like to publish it. The op-ed was published a week later.

Asked about the email, TLR spokesperson Lucy Nashed said in a statement that it "confirms that our position was always to urge senators to base their decision solely on the evidence after a fair and thorough trial."