Apparently, Wednesday was a bit chaotic.
The House impeachment managers rested their case against Ken Paxton on Wednesday amid a dramatic day that centered around questions of whether the attorney general’s paramour would take the stand and an abandoned effort to force a vote for an early verdict.
Paxton’s lawyers sought to cast doubt on a key prosecution claim that Nate Paul, the attorney general’s friend and donor at the center of the trial, paid to renovate the Austin home owned by the attorney general and his wife.
And the prosecution bungled its attempt to call the woman Paxton allegedly had an affair with, a crucial witness that could have helped prove the second element of the House’s bribery claim. Another impeachment article alleges Paul employed the woman in return for Paxton abusing the power of his office to help Paul harass and investigate his perceived enemies.
The House impeachment attorneys were racing against the clock Wednesday. At the start of the day, the prosecution had five hours and 17 minutes remaining to present their case, while Paxton’ side had almost double that.
Around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, toward the end of the seventh day of the trial, House lawyer Rusty Hardin announced the managers would rest. But he quickly realized he made the announcement too soon, cutting off further questioning of the current witness by either side. Paxton defense lawyer Tony Buzbee said he was fine with that and instead of beginning to present the defense’s case, he motioned for a directed verdict, a request for a dismissal of the articles of impeachment for lack of evidence.
That set off a kerfuffle as jurors realized the seriousness of what Buzbee was seeking. They met behind closed doors for about 45 minutes to consider the request.
When they returned, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the trial, announced Paxton’s lawyers had withdrawn their motions for the dismissal and the trial would proceed with the defense’s witnesses.
Laura Olson, the woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair, did not take the stand Wednesday afternoon after she planned to plead the Fifth Amendment, two sources with knowledge of the situation confirmed to Hearst Newspapers.
The Fifth Amendment allows people the right to not self-incriminate. In a civil trial, witnesses can be called to testify even if the court knows they will do so only planning to plead the Fifth. Civil juries are allowed to consider this adversely against them. But the same can’t be used in a criminal trial.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, when ruling on whether Paxton could be compelled to testify, likened the proceedings to a criminal trial.
After about a 20-minute, unscheduled hearing Wednesday, Patrick, who is presiding as judge over the Senate trial, said from the dais that Olson was present but had been “deemed unavailable to testify.”
After some senators seemed to question the decision aloud, Patrick said attorneys on both sides had “agreed” on the matter. Dressed in white with a red overcoat and an oversized Balenciaga-brand bag, Olson was then seen leaving the Capitol.
Olson is central to the House managers’ case against Paxton because they have alleged that Paul hired Olson as a favor to Paxton so he could see her more easily. In exchange, they allege, Paxton used his office to do favors for Paul.
I don’t know what to make of that, and so far no further explanations have been forthcoming. I will hope that the gossip mill does its job and someone runs a story about what really went down in the near future. In the meantime, the defense called its first witness yesterday, some impeachment expert, which sounds kind of boring but whatever. The defense may wrap up today or Monday, there will be some time for rebuttals and I assume closing arguments, and it sounds like the “jurors” will get handed this little hot potato early next week. Stay tuned. The Statesman and WFAA have more.
UPDATE: And the defense rests.
Ken Paxton’s defense team rested their case Thursday evening after a full day of testimony in which they attacked several of the 16 impeachment articles and downplayed the suspended attorney general’s conduct as merely a part of his duties.
The prosecution and defense will present closing arguments beginning at 9 a.m. Friday, after which the rules call for senators to deliberate in private before emerging to cast votes on each of 16 articles of impeachment.
Support from 21 senators — two-thirds of those eligible — is required to permanently remove Paxton from office on any article. If an article is sustained, a separate vote would be held on whether to ban Paxton from again serving in state elected office.
Each side was given 24 hours to present their cases, and Paxton’s attorneys began Thursday with more than eight and a half hours remaining — compared with just over two and a half hours for the House impeachment managers. Over the course of the trial’s nearly two weeks, Paxton was accused of going to great and illegal lengths to help his friend and donor, real estate investor Nate Paul, despite repeated warnings from top deputies in his office who later reported him to the FBI for bribery. Meanwhile, Paxton’s lawyers focused most of their time and energy on questioning prosecution witnesses.
On Thursday, they used their remaining time to call four current agency executives who defended Paxton from claims that he had abused his office to the detriment of the state and Texans.
We may get verdicts sooner than I thought, but if I were going to place a bet, it would be on the Senators deciding to mull it over until Monday. We’ll see.