Paxton trial Day 5: Witness describes Austin developer’s alleged hold over Texas AG’s office

Monday’s first witness focused on Paxton’s insistence the Texas Attorney General’s Office involve itself in investigations into Nate Paul, the real estate developer at the center of the impeachment.

By Julián Aguilar, The Texas NewsroomSeptember 12, 2023 8:01 am,

From The Texas Newsroom:

The second week of suspended Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial kicked off early Monday. The day included testimony from another former top aide — the latest witness to detail Paxton’s ties to Nate Paul, the real estate developer at the center of the impeachment — and Paxton’s former chief of staff, who described how her former boss’s affair affected the office.

But first, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opened the fifth day of proceedings by telling the court testimony would likely end later this week. As of Monday morning, Patrick said both sides had used about 14 and a half of their allotted 24 hours of time. This means the 30 senators who will decide Paxton’s fate could begin deliberations as soon as Thursday.

Patrick also said that, over the next few days, he intended to continue proceedings into the early evening, adding there would be no pauses in action on the Senate floor until verdicts were decided on the multiple charges against Paxton.

If convicted, Paxton would be permanently removed from office.

Paxton was suspended from his office in May when a Texas House investigation found Paxton allegedly committed bribery and abused the power of his office, among many other allegations, in connection with Austin real estate developer Nate Paul. Paxton was removed after 121 Texas House members, including 60 Republicans, voted for his removal.

Paxton has maintained his innocence throughout, and he is not required to be present for the trial.

‘Why is the attorney general involved in this?’

Testimony Monday by Mark Penley, Paxton’s former deputy attorney general for criminal justice, focused on Paxton’s insistence the office and several of his high-ranking assistants involve themselves in investigations into Paul, including Paul’s allegations he was being unfairly targeted by law enforcement.

Penley was one of several former Paxton employees who met with the FBI after unsuccessful attempts to convince Paxton to sever ties with Paul.

Early in his testimony, Penley explained how he met Paxton in Dallas and was asked to have a phone call with Paul. The Austin businessman wanted to present his case to Penley in hopes he’d investigate Paul’s allegations. Penley said he was immediately puzzled about why Paxton was going to such lengths.

“I thought, ‘Why is the attorney general involved in this? Why is he wanting me to know about this?’ This is not a state matter, from what I could tell,” he said. “And I thought it was very suspicious that someone who is the target of a federal investigation was reaching out to the attorney general of Texas for legal help.”

Penley added that Paxton privately told him he didn’t have complete faith in federal investigators due to personal experience.

“He made comments to me that indicated he was very mistrustful of law enforcement, and he made a comment as to how he felt about how he’d been treated by law enforcement, which was in a negative way,” Penley said.

Paxton continued to press the issue, Penley testified, saying the attorney general eventually became more disillusioned with his senior staff when they didn’t see a reason to follow through. Penley said that during a meeting with Paul and his attorney, Michael Wynne, the real estate developer became visibly upset when Penley and David Maxwell, a longtime Texas Ranger and former head of law enforcement in the Attorney General’s Office, said the investigation shouldn’t move forward.

“[Their reaction] was very unhappy. They pushed back immediately,” he said.

He later added that Paul implied the staff was under his direction.

“Mr. Paul acted like we didn’t understand who the real boss was. It wasn’t the attorney general. It was him. That was his body language,” testified Penley.

Paxton’s defense team later pressed Penley on why, if he thought Paul was in control, he didn’t speak to Paxton directly. Attorney Mitchel Little cited Penley’s own notes where he said he thought Paxton was being played.

“Did you tell your boss you thought that Nate Paul was ‘playing him’?” he asked. “You had his phone number, right?”

Penley said he was trying to figure out if Paxton would eventually see his relationship with Paul was dangerous.

“I was trying to find a way to convince him to listen to reason and get away from this investigation, which I thought was highly dangerous to him and harmful to the office,” Penley said.

Paxton’s alleged affair caused tension in the AG’s office

Katherine “Missy” Minter Cary, the former chief of staff in the attorney general’s office, took the witness stand later Monday afternoon.

Cary, who was a travel aid and in charge of overseeing Paxton’s security detail, said she became concerned after she overheard a conversation about Paxton at a central Austin café in 2018, specifically with the “level of personal detail that was being shared in a public space.”

Cary took a photo of the woman and shared it with Paxton, who told her the woman in question was the realtor trying to sell his condo.

But Cary said she later learned the woman was Laura Olson, Paxton’s alleged mistress.

Paxton’s affair has been a key issue in the trial. Last week Jeff Mateer, Paxton’s former first assistant attorney general, testified he believed that Paxton was adhering to Paul’s demands because of a possible blackmail scheme.

Paxton, Cary said, admitted to the affair, which led to staff complaining to her about issues in the office.

“The travel detail was calling about the hours they were working, the places they were required to go, and they were concerned about the General’s behavior,” Cary told the court.

Others were complaining about having to do non-state business. “The affair was one of the concerns that was not state business,” she said.

Cary testified she eventually confronted Paxton and advised him about the ethics of being a public official and hiding an affair.

She described a meeting in 2019 when Paxton “came in and said he was frustrated that I didn’t understand that he still loved Ms. Olson.” Cary said she took that to mean Paxton wanted her to be more accommodating.

She said she told Paxton that “it wasn’t my business who he was sleeping with, but that when things boiled over into the office and into the state work that it become[s] my business.”

Cary said Paxton became angry, yelled, and stormed out of the office.

The Texas Newsroom’s Sergio Martínez-Beltrán contributed to this report.

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