I will state upfront that I followed the impeachment trial from a bit of remove. There’s still a lot going on elsewhere, and thanks to the massive amounts of data dropped during discovery, there really hasn’t been anything new or shocking so far. There’s a ton of news out there, with various sites doing live coverage during the day, so I’m going to go a little lightly here. We’ll start with the Trib and its Saturday summary story.
The first week of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton’s history-making impeachment trial closed Friday with only four prosecution witnesses taking the stand in the first four days.
Even so, the broad strokes of the cases being presented by lawyers for the House impeachment managers and Paxton’s defense team emerged in Tuesday’s opening statements and during frequently tedious, sometimes contentious questioning of witnesses.
Among the many subplots, these themes are likely to guide a trial that could take several additional weeks — ending when senators deliberate in private and emerge to cast votes that will determine whether the three-term Republican will return to work or be permanently removed from office.
Paxton attended the opening hours of his trial on Tuesday, during which senators overwhelmingly rejected his attempts to dismiss the articles of impeachment and his lawyer entered not guilty pleas on his behalf. He was absent the rest of the week.
The trial is set to resume Monday at 9 a.m.
State Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, gave the opening statement on behalf of the House impeachment managers. He promised senators would hear testimony portraying Paxton as obsessed with helping Paul — who was under state and federal investigation for his business dealings — despite warnings and objections from his top lieutenants at the agency.
Paxton engaged in “egregious misconduct,” he said.
“The state’s top lawyer engaged in conduct designed to advance the economic interests and legal positions of a friend and donor to the detriment of innocent Texans,” Murr said, adding that Paxton “turned the keys of the office of attorney general over to Nate Paul.”
Ryan Bangert, Paxton’s former deputy first assistant attorney general, testified Wednesday and Thursday that Paxton took an unusual interest in matters involving Paul, such as pressing to overrule two agency decisions that denied Paul access to documents related to an active investigation into Paul’s businesses.
“We were devoting far more resources to Nate Paul than we ever should have,” Bangert said.
“I was deeply concerned that the name, authority and power of our office had been, in my view, hijacked to serve the interests of an individual against the interests of the broader public,” Bangert added. “It was unconscionable.”
On Friday, impeachment lawyers called their fourth witness, David Maxwell, Paxton’s former director of law enforcement. Maxwell was out of state when seven senior agency officials reported Paxton to the FBI in 2020. Instead, Maxwell took his concerns to other law enforcement officials and was later fired from the agency.
Maxwell said he found Paul’s complaint to be “absolutely ludicrous,” including claims that search warrants were improperly altered in a web of conspiracy that included a federal magistrate judge.
As a result, Maxwell said, he urged Paxton to drop his interest in Paul. “I told him that Nate Paul was a criminal … and that, if he didn’t get away from this individual and stop doing what he was doing, he was going to get himself indicted.”
In more than six hours of testimony, Mateer — the first witness called by the House impeachment managers — detailed his growing concerns through the summer and fall of 2020 about Paxton’s relationship with Paul, culminating in Mateer’s decision to join other senior advisers in reporting the attorney general’s behavior to the FBI on Sept. 30.
“I concluded that Mr. Paxton was engaged in conduct that was immoral, unethical, and I had the good faith belief that it was illegal,” Mateer testified.
Paxton’s lawyer attempted to cast Mateer as a rogue employee and disloyal friend of Paxton, arguing that the former first assistant jumped to conclusions about impropriety based on incomplete and inaccurate information. Attorney Tony Buzbee also accused Mateer of leading an attempted coup against Paxton.
But as Paxton has cast the impeachment as a persecution led by Democrats and liberal Republicans, Mateer presented a problem. He is an evangelical Christian and champion of religious liberty whose hiring by Paxton was praised by conservatives. And unlike four other senior deputies who filed a whistleblower lawsuit and later negotiated a proposed $3.3 million settlement — prompting Paxton’s camp to suggest they had a financial motivation for their allegations — Mateer simply quit within days of meeting with FBI agents in 2020.
As expected, the attorney general’s affair with Laura Olson, the former Senate aide Buzbee identified by name during the trial, took center stage in the trial.
Mateer exhibited a pained expression when asked about the relationship, as Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, sat about 30 feet away — present for the trial but barred from deliberating or voting by Senate rules. Prodded by impeachment lawyer Rusty Hardin, Mateer said the affair was the missing piece that explained the bizarre behavior Paxton had exhibited in asking his senior deputies to help Paul.
Mateer added that he was present for a 2018 meeting in which Paxton, joined by his wife, admitted to the extramarital affair but said it was over and that he had recommitted to his marriage.
“Mr. Paxton apologized and, using Christian terminology, I would say he repented,” Mateer said. “I assumed it was over because that’s what he said.”
Sen. Paxton, at her desk, took notes as Mateer spoke. She has maintained a bright disposition during the trial, chatting with colleagues during breaks and waving to supporters in the gallery.
I guess we can consider Laura Olson to be a public figure now. Imagine being known as “Ken Paxton’s secret girlfriend”. Anyway, it’s important to remember that Jeff Mateer, and indeed all of the former senior staffers that Paxton either fired or chased out, whether or not they later sued, are not good guys. They did the right thing, they showed good moral character and ethical behavior in trying to keep Paxton from turning the AG’s office into a complete joke, and they deserve credit for that. But they were recruited by Ken Paxton in the first place, to help Ken Paxton carry out his atrocious and harmful agenda, which they are all fully aligned with; indeed, Jeff Mateer is now working for one of the more evil organizations out in the private sector. They did the right thing in regard to Paxton. That doesn’t make them the good guys in any way.
There’s coverage from the Chron here, here, and here. The DMN’s coverage, which you may or may not be able to see without a subscription, is here. Here’s an interesting story from Texas Monthly about briefly being a paid shill for Ken Paxton. For a national view aimed at an audience that is only vaguely aware of the proceedings, this Slate story covers the basics. I’ll check in periodically as we go forward, mostly looking for new things if any arise. Otherwise I’ll probably just do more weekend summaries.