The impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is accused of abusing his power to help a wealthy donor and having an extramarital affair, is nearing its end as the prosecution rested its case on Monday.
Prosecutors present evidence of Paxton’s misconduct
The prosecution, led by House impeachment managers Dick DeGuerin and Rusty Hardin, presented evidence and testimony from 23 witnesses over eight days to support the 16 articles of impeachment against Paxton. The articles allege that Paxton committed constitutional bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, misappropriation of public resources, and other misconduct in relation to his relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor who was under federal investigation.
Some of the key evidence presented by the prosecutors include:
- A letter from Paxton to the Travis County District Attorney’s office in October 2020, requesting that they investigate Paul’s allegations of wrongdoing by state and federal officials who raided his home and office in 2019. The letter was written on official letterhead and signed by Paxton, even though he had recused himself from the matter due to his personal and financial ties to Paul.
- A series of text messages between Paxton and Paul from September 2020 to January 2021, showing that they communicated frequently about the status of Paul’s case, the appointment of a special prosecutor, and the actions of Paxton’s staff who opposed his intervention. The messages also revealed that Paul offered Paxton a job at his company, World Class Holdings, and that Paxton asked Paul for a loan of $1 million to pay for his legal fees in a separate criminal case.
- A testimony from Jeff Mateer, Paxton’s former first assistant attorney general, who resigned in October 2020 along with six other senior staff members after they reported Paxton to law enforcement for potential criminal violations. Mateer said that Paxton’s behavior was “alarming” and “unprecedented” and that he tried to use the attorney general’s office to benefit Paul. Mateer also said that Paxton had an affair with a woman named Shelly Luther, who worked for Paul as a property manager.
- A testimony from Ryan Bangert, another former deputy attorney general who resigned in October 2020. Bangert said that Paxton hired an outside lawyer, Brandon Cammack, to investigate Paul’s claims without proper authorization and oversight. Bangert also said that Cammack issued subpoenas to state and federal agencies that were involved in the raid on Paul’s properties, which were later quashed by a judge as invalid and unlawful.
- A testimony from David Maxwell, the former director of law enforcement at the attorney general’s office. Maxwell said that Paxton instructed him to meet with Paul and his attorney in August 2020 to discuss Paul’s allegations. Maxwell said that he felt “uncomfortable” and “pressured” by Paxton’s request and that he did not find any credible evidence to support Paul’s claims.
Defense argues for Paxton’s innocence
The defense team, led by Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee and co-counsel Dan Cogdell, argued that Paxton was innocent of all charges and that he acted within his authority as the state’s top lawyer. The defense also accused the prosecution of conducting a “witch hunt” and a “political coup” against Paxton.
Some of the main arguments made by the defense include:
- A claim that Paxton had a legitimate reason to request an investigation into Paul’s allegations because he believed that there was possible corruption and abuse of power by state and federal officials who raided Paul’s properties. The defense said that Paxton was acting in the public interest and not for personal gain.
- A claim that Paxton did not have a conflict of interest in the matter because he had disclosed his relationship with Paul to his staff and recused himself from any direct involvement. The defense said that Paxton delegated the authority to hire Cammack to Mateer and Bangert, who approved the contract without raising any objections at the time.
- A claim that Paxton did not have an affair with Luther and that their relationship was platonic. The defense said that Luther was a friend of Paxton’s wife, Angela Paxton, who is a state senator and a member of the jury. The defense also said that Luther was not employed by Paul but by a third-party company that managed some of Paul’s properties.
- A claim that the impeachment process was flawed and unfair because it violated Paxton’s due process rights. The defense said that the House investigative committee did not follow proper procedures when it brought the articles of impeachment against Paxton in May 2023. The defense also said that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is presiding over the trial as a judge, was biased against Paxton and had denied several motions filed by the defense.
What happens next?
The trial is expected to resume on Tuesday with closing arguments from both sides. The jury of state senators will then deliberate and vote on whether to convict or acquit Paxton on each article of impeachment. A two-thirds majority is required for conviction, which would result in Paxton’s removal from office and disqualification from holding any public office in the future. A simple majority is required for acquittal, which would allow Paxton to resume his duties as attorney general.
Paxton, who has been suspended from office since his impeachment, has maintained his innocence and vowed to fight the charges. He has also announced his intention to run for re-election in 2024, despite facing a primary challenge from former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and a potential general election challenge from former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.