State senator Drew Springer has had a change of heart. In September, the North Texas legislator heard extensive testimony about Ken Paxton’s alleged criminality, much of it related to the accusations from whistleblowers that the attorney general had used his office to benefit a campaign donor and had accepted a bribe. Springer says he believed evidence presented during the impeachment trial that showed Paxton had conducted an extramarital affair and used a burner Uber account, but he was unconvinced by charges that the AG had done anything to violate his oath of office. The senator, who represents a solidly red district that stretches from north of Dallas to the Oklahoma border and toes the party line on issues important to the right, voted with all but two of his GOP colleagues in the Senate to acquit Paxton on all sixteen impeachment charges he faced. 

Then, in January, Paxton said he would no longer contest the ongoing lawsuit related to the whistleblower case about which senators heard weeks of testimony—and Springer was irate. Rather than prove his innocence in court, Paxton was keen to avoid answering questions under oath, which he never had to do during his impeachment trial. Springer, who is not seeking reelection, now believes the state’s top law enforcement official admitted guilt and should again be put on trial by the Senate. 

In Springer’s telling, he didn’t change his mind on the facts; the facts changed, and he decided to take action. In late January, more than two months after announcing that he would not seek reelection, he wrote a letter to Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and his Senate colleagues asking if there was a way to reopen impeachment proceedings. Springer said he knew this was a “long shot to even ask”: there’s barely any precedent on impeaching statewide officials, and it’s unclear who would call lawmakers back to Austin, during a year when the Legislature is not in session, to relitigate issues the Senate has already put to bed.

So far, Springer’s intuition seems to have proven correct. He said he hasn’t heard back from attorneys or Patrick—who essentially runs the body by himself, through his staff. But Springer has been encouraged by the support he’s received since sending his missive. “I have not had one single person from my legislative colleagues that I’ve served with in both chambers say to me that they disagree with my letter,” he said. “And scores have agreed with it.”  

Speaking to Texas Monthly just weeks after sending the letter, Springer gave his unfiltered thoughts on the impeachment proceedings, Paxton, and how the state’s chief cop “played” the Texas Senate and got acquitted. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Texas Monthly: Do you regret your vote to acquit the attorney general on all the charges he faced? 

Drew Springer: I didn’t regret my vote at the time. The senators were charged with listening to what was presented to us—not going by what we may have known or anything outside of what was presented. The prosecuting side was supposed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Paxton misused his power and needed to be ousted from office. [This standard was set and voted on by the full Senate.] And they just didn’t get to that level.

TM: You said you didn’t regret your decision “at the time.” Has something changed?

DS: Yes. We had heard for months leading into the trial that Paxton didn’t get to tell his side of the story to the Texas House and was looking forward to telling his side to us in the Senate. Then, at the trial, he did not want to take the stand. I was at peace with my decision on my vote and going back to doing my normal duties—until about a week before I wrote my letter. 

What changed my mind was reporting saying that Paxton wanted to stop fighting the whistleblower lawsuit. I read through the court filing, where Paxton says he “elects not to contest any issue of fact in the case, as to the claim or damages.” Even a first-year law student knows that’s an admission of guilt. He’s basically undermined everything his defense team did during the trial. Not only is he saying he’s guilty, he’s also not trying to challenge anything that the [whistleblowers] have said about him or commenting about the amount of money that taxpayers could potentially owe [in a settlement]. That’s why I regret my vote now. 

TM: Was it really a surprise to you that Paxton would try to escape testifying under oath during the impeachment proceedings? He’s delayed his felony securities-fraud trial, arising from charges brought in 2015, for nearly a decade.

DS: Yes and no. To give some background, I campaigned with and endorsed Paxton in both 2014 and 2018, so I’ve been a Paxton supporter and took him at his word when he said he wanted to defend himself. But there’s a different standard in a civil trial [in which the jury decides based on the preponderance of the evidence, rather than on whether there’s reasonable doubt about the defendant’s guilt]. There is that side of me that says: If you’ve done nothing wrong, why are you afraid to get on the stand and answer questions truthfully?

Separately, he’s spent ten times more time fighting depositions versus just doing them. Many of us in senior business roles or in the Legislature have been deposed at one time in our life. I equate it to a root canal: it’s not fun, but you do it and get it over with. No big deal. But the fact that Paxton didn’t even want to attempt to fight on this lawsuit anymore raised massive red flags and questions about what he might be hiding. Paxton is our top law enforcement officer in the state of Texas and Texans have a right to know that their top cop is honest and isn’t a crook. 

TM: Do you think Texans are being deprived of the facts they need in order to make a judgment on Paxton’s guilt because he won’t testify under oath? 

DS: Absolutely we are. I mean, he’s admitted that he is guilty. Now I almost wonder: What else is he trying to hide that he doesn’t want to be deposed on? He’s willing to write a blank check on the taxpayers just so he doesn’t have to take the stand. 

TM: Do you agree with Lieutenant Governor Patrick’s decision to not require Paxton to testify during the impeachment proceedings?

DS: That was his decision to make. I’m not going to say whether I would have made a different one or not. 

TM: Do you feel like you got played by Paxton? 

DS: I think the Senate got played by Paxton. He had a defense team fighting tooth and nail for his innocence only for Paxton to essentially admit later that he’s guilty. If Paxton had any respect for the institution of the Senate, he should’ve just resigned, settled with the whistleblowers, and we all probably could’ve moved on.

TM: What crucial evidence do you believe was not presented at the trial?

DS: Not only did we not hear from Ken Paxton, we also didn’t hear from the Senate staffer he had the affair with. [Patrick said that both the defendant’s lawyers and prosecutors agreed that the former Senate staffer, Laura Olson, had been deemed “unavailable for testimony” despite her presence at the Capitol during the impeachment proceedings. She planned to refuse to answer questions based on her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.] We didn’t hear from Nate Paul [the real estate developer at the center of the corruption allegations against Paxton]. We didn’t hear from the contractor, either [whom Paul allegedly paid to remodel Paxton’s home]. 

But look, there’s no guarantee that seeing more witnesses would have affected our votes in the end. Both sides had very gifted attorneys, yes, but we still might not have gotten anything different if the trial was dragged out longer than it was. 

TM: Knowing what you do now, do you think Ken Paxton is guilty?

DS: In his own words he’s guilty, so yes. 

TM: Did Patrick urge you to vote to acquit Paxton?

DS: No. I didn’t talk to him once about the trial and definitely not about how to vote. 

TM: Was the verdict decided before the trial started, as many insiders believed? 

DS: I heard those rumors and put those out of my mind. I think the senators, like me, took copious notes, listened to everything that took place, and voted accordingly. 

TM: What was the pressure like from constituents and donors, before and during the trial? 

DS: In no way was it overwhelming. Most of what I received was from constituents reaching out and saying that they wanted the truth. My constituents trusted me to do what’s right, listen to everything, and come up with a decision. But my constituents and donors are essentially the same people. I did not hear from a single donor who gave me more than $500. None of my donors who contribute a large amount of money reached out and tried to tell me what to do.

TM: Did your decision to step down from your Senate seat have anything to do with your change of mind on Paxton’s guilt? 

DS: No. I knew before I went into the trial that I was going to leave the Senate. I was trying to get through the special sessions and the trial before I announced, to avoid being a sort of lame duck.

TM: Are reports true that a few senators were willing to convict Paxton if they had the necessary 21 votes to convict, but flipped once they realized they were short?

DS: For me, personally, it was close, but the prosecution just never got to that final standard of proving he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, in my opinion. It wasn’t like voting to acquit meant that I believed in Paxton’s absolute innocence, but it just didn’t rise to that standard.

Look, it was never disputed that he had an affair and then continued it after he said he wouldn’t. But the impeachment vote wasn’t about whether he had an affair. The fact that he used a fake Uber account, paid for by a donor, was not the charge for the impeachment. And he never denied that he used a fake Uber account to run around with a Senate staffer. 

TM: Why did you say, in an interview with your local newspaper in September, that half of the sixteen Republican senators who voted to acquit were close to voting the other way?

DS: I was misquoted in that article. What I was trying to say was there was all this smoke building up, and we kept expecting to see a kill shot or a smoking gun that was finally there when everything cleared out. But it just wasn’t there. 

TM: After you wrote your letter asking to reopen impeachment proceedings, Paxton dismissed it as “sour grapes” and said you left the Senate because you “needed a job,” as you weren’t going to get reelected. What is your reaction to that?

DS: It’s no surprise. I’ve been one of the top conservatives in my caucus for six regular sessions in a row, and I think his statement is just his sad, pathetic cry: ‘Don’t believe this guy.’ But my response is that I think he insulted the nearly 30 million Texans who make an honest living every day when he said I needed a job. I didn’t figure out how to get rich in Austin like he apparently has. He’s not told us how he’s come up with millions and millions of dollars in property around the world while working on a state salary. Paxton won’t come clean because people would demand his head and darn sure wouldn’t reelect him. 

Paxton’s been so distracted by trying to fight depositions and fight going to jail that he’s not even doing his job as attorney general anymore. I mean, he lost an easy case a couple of weeks ago to the Supreme Court on Shelby Park [in Eagle Pass]. He’s not even winning anymore. [In October, Paxton sued the federal government after Border Patrol agents cut barbed wire that state troopers had laid in the park as part of immigration enforcement efforts. After a judge issued an injunction against the U.S. Border Patrol, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the agency in January.]

TM: You aren’t Paxton’s only target. He’s getting involved in about a dozen or so primary races in the Legislature. What are your thoughts on his attempt to shape the Republican caucus?

DS: I think it’s an anchor around those candidates’ necks to be associated with Ken Paxton. Here’s a guy who used a donor’s fake Uber account to cheat on his wife with a Senate staffer. He’s also essentially admitted that he’s guilty of violating the whistleblowers’ rights. So, I don’t think voters really think much of Paxton, and I think it’s going to hurt those candidates to be associated with him. 

This weekend, I released a list of 22 candidates I’m endorsing opposite of Paxton. When all is said and done, I’d be surprised if the candidates I selected don’t win all—or most—of their races. And I’ve had two of Paxton’s six-figure donors reach out to me and thank me for putting that letter out because they say Ken has lost his way and is no longer the person they used to support. 

TM: Do you think members of the Legislature are now afraid to speak out when they see wrongdoing? 

DS: That sort of comment rings true nationwide. People realize that when you make certain statements, you sometimes risk losing support in certain areas. But I think this is an issue we’ve grappled with since our founding: When do we get involved and when do we say anything? This is a problem for our society, though, not just Texas. 

TM: Do you think Paxton will be held accountable eventually?

This was a difficult thing to do as a political trial. I don’t think, by any means, that we’ve heard the end of this. I think it’ll continue to go on and it won’t be a political witch hunt per se, but a hunt for the truth and the facts.