From The Texas Newsroom:
Well, Texas…we made it through a historic impeachment trial. Ken Paxton is only the third official in state history to face impeachment.
A member of the Texas Republican Party’s most conservative bloc, Paxton stands accused of abusing the power of his office, committing bribery and more, allegedly to help his friend Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and Paxton political donor, in a variety of legal and business matters.
Paxton was suspended from his position as the state’s attorney general in May by the Texas House after an investigative committee presented the chamber with 20 articles of impeachment. Paxton was then ousted by the chamber after 121 members, including 60 Republicans, voted for his removal.
A lot has transpired since the trial kicked off on Sept. 5. From emotional testimony by former Paxton loyalists to in-depth discussions of kitchen renovations to literal crickets filling the Capitol, here are some of the most memorable moments and eye-catching revelations from the trial.
On day one, the defense tried to get all charges against Paxton dropped. It failed…but Paxton didn’t have to testify
The trial opened with significant defeats for Paxton. The Senate shot down motions to drop virtually all of the impeachment charges against him, with a majority of Republican senators voting to proceed with the trial. At least 21 senators – or the minimum needed to vote to remove Paxton from office permanently at the end of trial – shot down each motion.
One motion that did go Paxton’s way exempted him from testifying. House impeachment managers sought to compel him to do so, and prosecutors wanted to call him as a witness. But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ruled Paxton should be protected against self-incrimination, since the House impeachment managers and their attorneys repeatedly likened his case to a criminal trial.
Besides the first day of the trial — when Senate rules specified the three-term Republican needed to show up — and Friday’s closing arguments, Paxton was absent from the proceedings.
‘A gun to his head’
Was Paxton being held hostage? No. At least not in a Chuck Norris, action-thriller sort of way. But at least two former high-ranking Paxton loyalists said their old boss’s behavior was cause for concern. And they tied it to Nate Paul.
Jeff Mateer, a former deputy attorney general in the office, testified on day two of the trial that he believed Paxton was being blackmailed to keep details about Paxton’s alleged extramarital affair secret.
“I believed that [Paxton] potentially could have been subject to blackmail and as a result he was taking illegal actions on behalf of what we then knew was a campaign donor,” Mateer said. “He was taking actions on behalf of Mr. Paul.”
He later added: “I really wanted him to come clean. I even said, ‘Are you under undue influence, sir?’”
Later that day, Ryan Bangert, Paxton’s former deputy first assistant, took the stand, and painted a darker description of the hold this outside force allegedly had on Paxton.
During Bangert’s testimony about an attorney general’s opinion he and others said was crafted to benefit Paul, he described how it was “exceptionally uncharacteristic” for the attorney general to be so involved in an opinion of that nature, adding that Paxton reached out to him several times regarding the language of the opinion.
“It was bizarre,” he said. “He was acting like a man with a gun to his head.”
Paxton’s alleged affair came up quite a bit
While Ken Paxton’s relationship with Nate Paul was the trial’s main focus, another noteworthy name came up practically every day on the Senate floor: Laura Olson.
Olson allegedly had an affair with Paxton, and was eventually hired for a job with Paul’s company. Throughout the trial, several of Paxton’s former aides shed light on how they believed the relationship factored into Paxton’s behavior and relationship with Paul.
The prosecution called Katherine “Missy” Minter Cary to the stand on Monday. The former chief of staff in the attorney general’s office detailed how Paxton’s affair caused tension in the office. She said members of Paxton’s travel detail started complaining to her about Paxton’s actions.
“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.
Cary eventually confronted Paxton about the affair. She told him she was concerned that the relationship was disrupting daily operations in the office and that she was worried about the ethical dilemmas the affair presented.
Paxton “came in and said he was frustrated that I didn’t understand that he still loved Ms. Olson,” Cary said, recalling a meeting she had with Paxton in 2019.
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 [became] my business.”
Cary also stated that her heart broke for Paxton’s wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, the Associated Press reported.
Waiting for Laura Olson
On Wednesday morning, House impeachment managers announced they planned to call Olson as a witness. Onlookers had wondered if she would take the stand at some point in the trial.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ruled prosecutors would have to wait to call Olson until the afternoon, however, as they had given fewer than 24 hours notice of their intentions.
Olson arrived at the Capitol later that day. After a break in proceedings where senators debated behind closed doors, Patrick returned to the dais and said Olson was present but “unavailable to testify.”
While that development may have disappointed those who’d been anticipating Olson’s time on the witness stand, it did squash what could have been an awkward moment for Paxton’s wife.
While the Texas Constitution requires every senator to be present for an impeachment trial, Senate rules adopted for Paxton’s proceedings excluded Sen. Paxton from participating in deliberations or voting on whether to convict him.
Still, Sen. Paxton was present for each day of the trial, and spent her time writing notes while listening to testimony, occasionally waving to supporters in the Senate gallery. She declined multiple requests for comment from The Texas Newsroom (that’s not surprising given that senators were under a gag order and told not to speak to the press or other outsiders about the trial).